The Zurich University research team suggest an early intervention in response to consumer concerns, which include efforts to educate and inform the consumer about cultured meat as an alternative to traditionally reared meat.
“We hypothesized that cultured meat would be perceived as less natural and more disgusting compared with traditional meat, and that this might cause problems in the acceptance of cultured meat and the perception of the related benefits,” the study authors stated.
“Another aim was to investigate how the manner of describing meat production would shape consumers' perception and acceptance of the product.”
The recommendations are arguably more of a challenge than technological limitations in winning hearts as well as minds.
The concept of cultured or lab-grown meat is constantly gathering momentum, buoyed on by sustainability and supply chain issues that have forced manufacturers to look to other sources such as insects.
Its possibilities, costs and potential audience has resulted in a number of start-ups taking the baton and leading the charge in making these meats commercially available.
Israeli cultured meat start-up Supermeat has not only collaborated with one of Europe’s biggest poultry producers, PHW but also secured €2.4m ($3m) in a seed-funding round to finance alternative to “transform the animal-based economy”.
Meanwhile, US rival Memphis Meats, have been investing significant sums into beef alternatives, with the help of Cargill, amongst other unnamed "food industry giants", who chose to invest €14.4m ($17m) in the start-up back in October last year.
Despite the interest, the industry is still undecided as to how best to convince a sceptical audience, wary of an ‘unnatural’ approach to cultivation and/or unconvinced by the prospect of introducing foreign elements to the diet.
Concerns have also been expressed to the possible negative societal consequences of cultured meat, such as loss of farming and eating traditions.
In a series of experiments led by Dr Michael Siegrist, professor of consumer behaviour at Zurich University, consumers were asked about their views regarding the impact of perceived naturalness and disgust on their acceptance of cultured meat.
The results of Experiment 1 suggested participants exhibited a low level of acceptance of cultured meat, as it was perceived as unnatural.
In addition, telling participants about the production of cultured meat and its benefits had the unusual effect of increasing the acceptance of traditional meat.
Experiment 2, in which participants were randomly assigned to one of the three descriptive pieces of information, showed that how cultured meat is described influences the participants' perception. “Thus, it is important to explain cultured meat in a nontechnical way that emphasizes the final product, not the production method, to increase acceptance of this novel food,” the researchers stated.
The team also commented on the implications of Experiment 1’s findings adding that if cultured meat was perceived as unnatural, it does not only have a low acceptance, but conventional meat is regarded more positively.
“This is certainly not the aim of introducing cultured meat into the marketplace,” the team said.
“It is important that consumers perceive cultured meat as natural. Although the production process of cultured meat completely differs from that of conventional meat, the product is essentially the same; that needs to be communicated to consumers.
“If this can be achieved, cultured meat may be the solution that will provide “meat” to consumers while reducing the environmental impact associated with meat consumption.”
Source: Meat Science
Published online ahead of print: doi.org/10.1016/j.meatsci.2018.02.007
“Perceived naturalness and evoked disgust influence acceptance of cultured meat.”
Authors: Michael Siegrist, Bernadette Sütterlin, Christina Hartmann