What makes consumer positive about cultured meat?

Cultured meat, is meat that is grown outside of an animal. To grow cultured meat we take some cells from an animal and let them multiply until we have meat. This innovative way of producing meat has attracted a lot of media attention as a way to create real meat at lower environmental impact than traditional meat.

When discussing cultured meat with consumers, many people are surprised. A surprise response like “Yuck” meat from a machine can happen. But once we give them more information they are often more positive. But what if it that makes people positive? Are these the facts about how sustainable cultured meat is, or is only the associations with sustainable products enough to make people positive, or is just giving people a happy feeling all we need to do? In our recent paper in Appetite we show that it is mainly the association with sustainable products.

The world is getting more populated, and welfare is increasing across the globe. Yet, it is impossible to produce enough meat to give all citizens of the world as much meat as we eat in the West. Therefore we urgently need alternative source of high quality proteins to replace meat. Cultured meat is seen as one solution for this growing demand of high quality protein. But in the end consumer acceptance will determine whether cultured meat will be a success or failure. To predict whether cultured meat becomes a success it is essential to know what information will influence consumer opinion.

Consumer opinions to strange, high tech, new products may be determined by their first quick, unconscious “yuck” (or “yum”) responses. To measure this we asked people to quickly link cultured meat words to negative (yuck) and positive (yum) words. The faster the response time to positive words, the stronger the implicit (the often hidden, unspoken, and even unconscious) positive attitude to cultured meat (and vice versa). But opinions may also be more consciously formed, and to measure that type of opinion, we also collected opinion in a survey format asking people to respond, consciously on statements about cultured meat.

In three experiments we gave people different kinds of information. And in all studies we found a slightly negative implicit attitude towards cultured meat. It did not matter what we told participants about cultured meat, this “yuck” response remained.

But while the implicit attitude did not chance, the conscious opinions did. In the first study, positive information about cultured meat made consumers more positive, and negative information made people more negative. Not very surprising, but an important first step to show that information matters at all. In the second study, positive information about cultured meat but also positive information about solar panels resulted in a more positive opinion about cultured meat. This shows that it does not really matter that we communicate about cultured meat itself. At least as long as people make some connection between the product communicated about and the cultured meat that an opinion is given about. This connection can go through the associations Solar Panel ~ Sustainable ~ Cultured Meat. Hearing positive information about one sustainable product (solar panel) makes people consider similar positive effects of the next sustainable product (cultured meat). But an alternative explanation is also possible. The positive information causes a general happiness. And once we are happy, we are positive about everything, including cultured meat.

In the third study we rule out that last – “happiness” explanation. We made people happy or sad independent of information. This did not result in any differences in opinion about cultured meat. Therefore we concluded that the happiness explanation is unlikely.

What we concluded based on these three experiments is that people can easily place cultured meat amidst sustainable products. If people are positive about sustainable products, this carries over to cultured meat. This positivity is not due to being generally happy, but relates to positivity about sustainability. But we can only show this for conscious opinions, and not for the unconscious “yuck” or “yum” response. Introducing cultured meat is thus most served by making relations with sustainability, and make these conscious and visible.

The paper can be found at (subscription required): Bekker, G. A., Fischer, A. R. H., Tobi, H., & van Trijp, H. C. M. (2017). Explicit and implicit attitude toward an emerging food technology: The case of cultured meat. Appetite, 108, 245-254. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.10.002

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Arnout Fischer

About Arnout Fischer

Arnout Fischer is associate professor in the Marketing and Consumer Behaviour group. He studies consumer response to new technologies in food products and production. He thinks that consumer response to food innovation can only be understood if we realise that food is very special. Food is that special because all consumers have very much social and cultural knowledge what food should (or should not) be; and food consumption is very emotional.

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