This article sets out to do two things. First, it surveys relevant literature to identify a wide variety of potential determinants of consumer acceptance or rejection of cultured meat. Second, it reports on the results of an exploratory, web-based study conducted in Flanders during April 2013. The purpose of these efforts is to help anticipate how consumers will react to cultured meat and what might affect that.
Potential Determinants of Consumer Acceptance
The authors identify two major types of acceptability criteria for cultured meat in their review of the literature. The first type relates to the moral order (i.e., is the technology acceptable and does it not transgress the laws of nature?) and even if it does, do the benefits greatly outweigh the harms caused by conventional meat production. The second type of acceptability criteria relates to the acceptability of the physical product in terms of its sensory quality, healthiness, safety, sustainability, price, etc.
The authors importantly note, “Even if consumers are willing to try this novel product, such willingness does not reveal much about the likelihood of repeat purchase or a sustainable, change of eating habits.”
An Explanatory Study
In April 2013, the authors conducted a web-based survey of 180 individuals in Flanders (the northern Dutch-speaking part of Belgium). The study used a convenience sampling procedure that was targeted mainly at students. As such the authors state, “the exploratory insights obtained from this study mainly apply within the characteristics of the sample, whereas generalization to the overall population remains speculative.”
Participants were asked about their mean consumption habits and reasons to eat less meat and then about their awareness of cultured meat. Then basic information about cultured meat was provided. Participants were asked about their expectations for cultured meat on several dimensions and were finally asked about their willingness to try, purchase, and pay a premium for cultured meat. The willingness questions were asked twice, first after the basic information was provided and then again after some additional information was provided that stressed problems with conventional meat production and pointed at cultured meat as a potential solution.
Salient results include the following:
- Participants generally believed cultured meat would be safe, nutritious, ethical, more sustainable than conventional meat, sightly less tasty, and more expensive
- Cultured meat was perceived as healthier by omnivores than those who indicated they eat mostly vegetarian meals, likely because the latter group may believe that plant-based foods are healthier than meat
- 67% of participants indicated they would maybe be willing to try cultured meat if it was available on the market and an additional 24% saying they surely wanted to try it
- After the additional information on the harms of conventional agriculture and the potential benefits of cultured meat was provided, 51% of participants indicated they would be maybe willing to try it with 43% saying they surely wanted to try it
- 14% said they were surely willing to pay a price premium before receiving the additional information and 36% said they were willing to pay a price premium after receiving the information
Providing additional information on the benefits of cultured meat seemed to positively impact the willingness to try it and also to pay a premium. The authors note that the additional information provided was “univocally positive”.
The authors state that “Conclusive consumer insight about cultured meat is still very scarce.” They suggest that their research points both at general consumer acceptance of cultured meat and the potential for positive information about it to increase consumer acceptance. They recommend further research into determinants of consumer acceptability of cultured meat.