Cultivated meat’s consumer acceptance problem: Many Americans unwilling to try cultured protein, perceive it as less healthy, less tasty, according to Purdue University survey

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/Vladimir Mironov
Source: Getty/Vladimir Mironov

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Recent survey data from Purdue University that found one-third of Americans are unwilling to try cultivated chicken or cow prepared in a restaurant underscores the extent of the category’s "consumer acceptance problem,” despite efforts by industry players to educate potential shoppers about cellular agriculture and its benefits.

“Consumers, without ever tasting this stuff, are like, ‘Yuck! No thanks!’ It is almost like the reaction is a … kind of revulsion” that is not based on experience, but rather a natural skepticism of new technologies and unfamiliar foods, said Joseph Balagtas, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue, director of the university’s Center or Demand Analysis and Sustainability and the lead author for the center’s March Consumer Food Insights Report.

“All of us have foods that we do not like, even if we may not have tasted them,” as is likely the case for all 1,200 of the consumers surveyed by the center about their perceptions of cultivated meat​, which is only available in the US at a handful of restaurants, he said.

“We have evolved to think that unfamiliar things are not good to eat – they are going to be gross or they are going to make us sick,” he explained.

This is reinforced by the survey finding that the more “exotic” the meat, the less likely respondents were willing to try it in a restaurant – whether it was cultivated or conventional.

For example, while a third of respondents were unwilling to try cultivated chicken compared to 4% who were unwilling to try conventional chicken, even more – 69% – were unwilling to try cultivated octopus (vs. 44% who would not eat conventional octopus) and 84% who would not try cultivated zebra (compared to 80% who would not eat conventional zebra).

While rejecting the unfamiliar may be “natural,” it is also a “huge hurdle” for the burgeoning cultivated meat segment, Balagtas said.

But, he added, it is one that the industry likely can overcome by making cultivated meat more available and accessible or showing famous people enjoying eating it.

“If you have examples of the actual product that people can see and taste, then these perceptions can be changed,” he said.

These strategies already are in play, with cultivated meat companies proactively educating consumers about what cultured protein is, how it is made and teaming with celebrity chefs or conducting high-profile taste-tests with celebrities or respected experts to win over Americans. Some US-based players regularly offer tours of their facility to increase consumer exposure.

Source: Perdue University's March Consumer Food Insights Survey
Source: Purdue University's March Consumer Food Insights Survey

Misinformation, misperceptions fill knowledge gaps

Still, fear of the unfamiliar also feeds misinformation and misperceptions that industry stakeholders also must address if they want to win over mainstream consumers.

The survey found most Americans perceive cultivated meat to be less tasty and less healthy than conventional beef and chicken sourced from animals – again, even though very few US consumers have tried protein produced from cellular agriculture.

On a scale of one to five, with one representing not at all tasty and five representing very tasty, conventional beef and chicken scored an average of 4.4 and 4.2, respectively, compared to 2.7 for both cultivated beef and chicken. Survey respondents scored the products' healthfulness similarly, with conventional beef and chicken earning 3.4 and 4.2 on average compared to cultivated beef and chicken, which were ranked 2.6 and 2.9 on average, respectively.

“Somewhat surprisingly,” the difference between the taste and healthfulness of more exotic proteins is less pronounced between cultivated and conventional, according to the survey.

For example, the healthfulness of cultivated lion and elephant were only 0.1 less than that of their conventional counterparts, which came in at 2.1 and 2 on average, respectively. Similarly, consumers scored the tastiness of both cultivated lion and elephant at 1.7 and rated conventional elephant at 1.8 and conventional lion at 1.9.

[Editor’s note: Interested in learning how alternative protein players across categories are encouraging consumer trial or elevating the health and taste profile of their products? Join FoodNavigator-USA, ReThink and hundreds of industry leaders at Future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins summit in Chicago June 17-18. The event includes on the mainstage panel discussions on ‘Championing Strategies for Increased Acceptance and Adoption,’ ‘Elevating Sensory Experience: Prioritizing Formulations to Exceed Taste and Texture Expectation,’ and more. Check out the full agenda​ and register HERE​.]

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