How to sell lab meat: An analyst's insight into marketing for the new in-vitro industry

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The biggest markets for lab-meat are the young, and consumers who already avoid real meat for ethical reasons, according to a food marketing expert.

Researchers and developers lack funding and industry backing but expect in-vitro products to be on the shelves within the next five to seven years; hailed as an ethical and environmental revolution for the industry by some, certain polls have shown a public reluctance to the idea of switching from traditionally reared meat to the lab ‘cultured’ alternatives.

With only a single burger and a meat ball having been grown in-vitro, cooked and tasted in public before, much speculation surrounds the eventual reception these meat alternatives will enjoy once produced on an industrial scale. Its place in the industry however, now seems inevitable.

FoodNavigator turns to Mintel marketing expert Patty Johnson to find out what we can expect.

In terms of current consumer attitudes towards lab-meats, are people really sceptical or opposed to the idea?

"I would say that UK consumers are fairly sceptical as far as the potential for lab meat to match the taste of real meat. Just a quarter of consumers indicate an interest in trying lab-grown meats, but nearly a third agrees that lab-produced foods could help reduce world hunger."

In a 2013 Mintel UK study of 2000 internet users aged 16 and over, 38% said they believed meat grown in a lab would never taste as good as real meat. But 29% also said food would have to be produced artificially to prevent world hunger, regardless of their personal preferences. Only 25% said they would actually try lab-meat, with 15% saying they would switch if it were the cheaper alternative.

How does this vary across age groups and national regions?

"We don’t yet have data on this. But we can look to data on consumption of meat alternatives and their usage instead. For instance Mintel's research shows that of US consumers who eat meat alternatives, 35% of Millennials say they eat them as a side dish, up from an average of 29%."

What are the attitudes of vegans and vegetarians - would they potentially start consuming meat again with the lab alternative?

"If we look at why consumers are avoiding meat, there are typically two primary reasons: health and ethical."

"Health-focused meat reducers are likely to be attracted to meat-like products, as these replacements offer a similar eating experience and can be utilised in cooking in the same way that actual meat products are. Products targeting health-motivated meat avoiders need to pay attention to protein, sodium, fat (type of fat too), cholesterol and calorie levels, level of perceived processing, and presence of additives or preservatives."

"Ethically-motivated consumers are typically turned off by the idea of factory-farmed meats, or the environmental impact of a meat-based food economy. Looking at meat at the store may remind them of animal cruelty, thus conjuring up feelings of guilt. 

"However, vegetarian and vegan consumers may not have an aversion to the actual taste and texture of cooked meat, and thus may still be open to meat-mimicking alternatives, such as lab-grown meats (for their convenience and applicability to meal preparation). Further, they may have someone in their household that they are trying to convert to the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, so meat alternatives that mimic meat may help to make this lifestyle more accessible and palatable."

"I believe that it is actually a small cohort of consumers that limits meat consumption because of the actual taste and texture of meat (unless you are talking about raw meat, as many consumers are put off by handling raw meat/poultry products)."

What have been the most effective marketing strategies, and to which target markets?

"Products targeting meat replacement or as part of a healthy meal (i.e. the burger patty) have been the most successful to date, targeting consumers who are completely avoiding animal proteins, as well as meat limiters which expands the market for these items significantly."

"Also, note that younger adults are more likely to claim to be vegetarian or vegan."

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