Special edition: Meat Alternatives

Industry must improve long term acceptance of meat analogues, say researchers

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Meat substitutes Meat

Tofu emerges more positively from the survey than Quorn
Tofu emerges more positively from the survey than Quorn
Consumer acceptance of meat analogues can be increased through repeated exposures to products containing substitute meat proteins, but industry must work to improve quality and establish initial positive experiences, say researchers. 

The environmental impact of meat production is one reason for industry to push the agenda on meat substitutes; however, such changes in consumption will only work if meat substitutes are attractive to consumers, the researchers warn.

“In order to establish a durable replacement of meat by new meat substitutes, it is therefore necessary to investigate which factors are important in long-term acceptance,”​ explain researchers writing in the journal Food Quality and Preference.

Led by Annet Hoek from Wageningen University in The Netherlands, the new study does exactly that, by exploring the long-term consumer acceptance of environmentally sustainable alternatives to meat. “We investigated whether meat substitutes, which are relatively new food products, would be better appreciated after repeated consumption,” ​the team says. 

The team investigated the effects of repeated exposure to two types of meat substitutes (tofu and Quorn) and a meat reference product (chicken). They found that participants trying non meat-like products, such as tofu showed an increased liking for them over time. However, meat-based (chicken) and meat-like substitutes (Quorn) made them increasingly bored. However the team noted that the level of boredom with the products varied between people and the type of meals consumed.

“This study demonstrates that liking of meat substitutes can be increased by repeated exposure for a segment of consumers,”​ said the researchers.

Industry action

Hoek notes that while repeated exposure to food products that are relatively unfamiliar and distinct – such as meat substitutes –  might increase acceptance in certain segments of consumers, if initial liking is low compared to familiar products (such as meat) “most consumers will hardly ever consume these products recurrently in real life”.

“In order to improve long-term acceptance of environmentally sustainable meat substitutes, we suggest to focus mainly on increasing the willingness to try and to establish positive initial product experiences,”​ they say. “Besides improving the quality of single products, the meal context should be considered in product development of new meat substitutes as well.”

Study details: Quorn vs tofu

The study investigated the effects of repeated exposure to two types of meat substitutes (tofu and Quorn) and a meat reference product (chicken) among 89 non-vegetarian people in a home use test. The participants consumed one type of product as part of a self-selected hot meal 20 times during a 10 week period.

“The overall aim was to get insight in factors that influence long-term acceptance of new environmentally sustainable meat substitutes. We considered the role of the product, the person, and the meal context in studying consumer acceptance over time,” the researchers say.

Hoek reported that initial liking (on a scale out of 100) for chicken was higher (81) than for Quorn (60) and tofu (68).

“On a product group level, boredom occurred with all three products and after 20 exposures there were no significant differences in product liking anymore,”​ say the team.

However, they note a noticeably different individual response within the three product groups, showing both ‘boredom’ and ‘mere exposure’ patterns, such as increases in liking due to repeated exposure.

Hoek and colleagues reveal study participants showed increases in liking due to ‘mere exposure’ significantly more frequently with tofu.

Source: Food Quality and Preference
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2012.07.002
Are meat substitutes liked better over time? A repeated in-home use test with meat substitutes or meat in meals”
Authors: Annet C. Hoek, Johanna E. Elzerman, Rianne Hageman, Frans J. Kok, Pieternel A. Luning, Cees de Graaf

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