Survey: How do consumers feel about cell cultured meat, and dairy minus the cows?

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages / AndreyPopov
©GettyImages / AndreyPopov

Related tags cellular agriculture Processing and packaging Innovation Processing equipment & plant design

New research from strategic marketing and communications Charleston|Orwig firm suggests that younger consumers are open to the idea of cell-cultured meat, and milk and ice cream made from microbes rather than cows, even when they are described with far-from-neutral terms such as ‘lab-grown’ and ‘synthetic.’

“Whether it’s molecular whiskey, flora-based dairy​, or protein made from air​, a push to develop synthetic and lab-based foods is underway,”​ Charleston|Orwig said.

To gauge consumer perceptions about these products, Charleston|Orwig worked with two research partners, Maeve Webster of Menu Matters and Confidential Consumer, polling 500 consumers across the US.

Key findings: Split consumer acceptance

According to the survey, which used loaded/negative terms such as 'synthetic vegan ice cream​' and 'lab-grown meat​,' more than half of respondents were open to the idea of such products, although the term “cellular agriculture”​ scored minimal awareness with consumers.

Just over 40% of those surveyed described the concept of products created with these new technologies as “scary,”​ with no intention of adding them to their diets - perhaps unsurprisingly given the terminology used.

Notably, younger consumers (Gen Z and millennials) were significantly more willing to try foods produced in these novel ways as only 26% of 18- to 34-year-olds called such foods “scary”​ and said they’d be unwilling to try them compared to 46% of those over the age of 55.

About 20% of younger consumers agreed these types of products will help “save the planet”​ and that they are “cool​” and the “future of foods/beverages”.

“There is an emerging awareness by Americans, especially the younger generation, that new technologies will become part of our food system,”​ said Mark Gale, CEO of Charleston|Orwig.

“However, for most consumers who are willing to give synthetic and lab-based foods a try, transparency and more information will be critical to adoption. They wonder: What’s in it? How is it made? Is it safe to eat?”

Largest concerns 

The #1 preoccupation reported by 33.4% of consumers in the survey was a lack of understanding about the long-term health impacts of consuming what Gale described as "synthetic or lab-produced​" foods and beverages, terms to which stakeholders strongly object given that on a commercial scale such foods will be produced in factories, like all other packaged foods, and that there is nothing 'synthetic' about real meat or dairy produced in a different way.

One quarter of consumers (25.2%) expressed concerns about the healthfulness of these products compared with conventionally produced food. 

Other top five concerns: "lab-produced" foods/beverages would not be better for the environment (21.6%); would not include natural ingredients (19.2%); and would lead to completely processed products (19%).

Gen Zs and Millennials responded as being less concerned about the healthfulness of these lab-based products with only 15% indicating it as an issue, however.

Like other new food technologies, Charleston|Orwig foresees that time and continued exposure will help tackle consumer concerns.

“Today American farmers are increasingly using high-tech tools such as satellite imagery to grow food,”​ said Gale.

“We don’t know yet whether a lab-grown chicken nugget, synthetic vegan ice cream or even wine created in a laboratory will become part of our daily food consumption. We do know that these innovations will continue to break barriers. Building new brands and protecting existing leaders is going to get ever-more complicated. It’s definitely an exciting time to be involved with the food and beverage industry.”

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