Would you eat ‘meat’ from a lab? Consumers aren’t sold

In Michigan State University’s Food Literacy and Engagement Poll, we surveyed over 2,100 Americans in 2018 asking, “How likely would you be to purchase foods that look and taste identical to meat, but are based on ingredients that are produced artificially?” We intentionally didn’t use terms like “cultured meat” and “lab-grown meat” to avoid influencing the response based on a particular term.

We found just one-third of Americans would be likely to purchase cultured meat, with the other two-thirds veering toward caution. Forty-eight percent told us they’d be unlikely to buy this product. The question did not provide much detail about cell-cultured meats, so our results represent a general reaction to the idea of purchasing “traditional” versus “artificial” meat.

When we split the poll results out by income, participants in households earning over $75,000 per year were nearly twice as likely to say they’d purchase cultured meat (47 percent), compared to those in households earning less than $25,000 per year (26 percent). It seems that the more people earn, the more likely they are to switch from being undecided about cultured meat to being willing to give it a try. But the proportion who said they were unlikely to try cultured meat didn’t vary much at all as income rose.

A more striking difference was seen with the poll participant’s age. Eighteen to 29-year-olds were nearly five times more likely (51 percent) to say they’d purchase cultured meat products compared to those 55 and over (only 11 percent). And college graduates were substantially more likely to say they’d purchase cultured meat products (44 percent) compared to non-college graduates (24 percent).

We also found that 43 percent of men said they’d likely try artificial meats but just 24 percent of women did – a gender difference that was also seen in a separate 2007 study. Notably, the same study also found that politically liberal respondents are more likely to eat cultured meat than their more conservative counterparts.

Consumer behavior is often more complex than a single, aggregate snapshot of the entire population can convey. While many people could respond differently at the grocery store than in an online poll about a product that’s not yet on the market, our findings and others suggest that attitudes related to cultured meat – however it ends up being labeled – are complicated and likely influenced by one’s values and experiences.

Cultured meat may have environmental and ethical appeal, but its success in the marketplace depends on far more than technological and economic viability. Regulators and producers will need to consider the wide spectrum of opinions and attitudes held by consumers if the benefits of this technology are to be widely enjoyed.

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