New research from Surveygoo indicates that 40% of Americans are willing to try lab-grown meat, according to Food Ingredients First. Vegans represent the largest demographic willing to try cell-cultured meat, at 60%, while 28% of meat eaters are open to sampling it.
A number of trends are working in favor of this fledgling concept. Consumers are educated about their food and its sourcing more than ever, and they’re questioning whether eating traditionally raised meat is the right choice for their health, animal welfare and sustainability, according to Richard Clarke, founder of Ingredient Communications Ltd.
Cell-cultured meat is attracting significant investments in the Unites States. Memphis Meats, a clean-meat company that was founded in 2015, has received funding from Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson, Cargill and Tyson Foods' venture capital arm.
There has been plenty of buzz around the concept of "clean meat" since researchers first began experimenting with the product a few years ago. The cell-cultured meat production process sounds a bit like science fiction — scientists select animals with optimal genetics, such as fast-growth rates and above-average muscle heft, harvest cells via biopsy and then grow those cells in a nutrient broth — but as this study shows, consumers seem ready to give it a try. This could bring significant disruption to traditional animal agriculture and consumer buying habits.
Clean meat supports many of consumers' top food demands, including environmental sustainability, ethical animal treatment, traceability and food safety (cultured meat is sterile, which eliminates the risk of E. coli). But there are still major obstacles to overcome in order for this concept to break into the mainstream — namely education and cost.
Memphis Meats is working to debut its products in high-end restaurant menus by next year and bring the cost of production down to parity with grocery store meat products — $3 to $4 per pound — by 2021. It's an ambitious goal — the company produced a pound of cell-cultured meat for less than $2,400 last summer. But Memphis Meats has strong investment support, plus a full roster of chefs and scientists working to bring cultured meat into the mainstream. Still, one problem those chefs and scientists won’t be able to solve is selling the product to a skeptical audience. Education will be as big of a factor in cultured meat’s success as cost.
The rise of plant-based proteins and growing consumer acceptance of alternative meats such as Impossible Foods' namesake burger, which "bleeds" and sears like a real beef patty, has helped groom the American consumer for new protein formats. It's possible the evolution of plant-based protein companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat foreshadow the success of clean meat.
Impossible's chief strategy officer Nick Halla told Food Dive in an interview last year that people “aren’t really tied to their meat coming from an animal — they just want it to taste good.” If he’s right, this bodes well for lab-grown proteins.
Though the number of Americans identifying as vegans and vegetarians is small, the potential for the meat alternative market has never been higher. Thirty-one percent of Americans go meat-free on certain days, while Google searches for “vegan” jumped 90% in the past year, according to a November Chicago Tribune article. Whether this will translate into widespread support for clean meat, and if vegans will be interested in lab-grown, cruelty-free proteins, remains to be seen.
One thing is certain: to really gain traction in the protein space, manufacturers like Memphis Meats will need to invest in comprehensive marketing campaigns that explain what their products are and what benefits they offer. This will no doubt lead to pushback from traditional animal agriculture — the U.S. Cattlemen's Association already wants to exclude animal-free protein from the definition of "meat" — but these types of campaigns have proven successful for manufacturers of dairy alternatives, a segment that poses similar disruption. So far anyway, lab-grown meat appears to be destined for the same kind of success as these popular beverages.