Science Can't Sell Fake Meat

How cultured or lab-grown meat products are presented to consumers has a big impact on consumer perceptions of those products. Before you say, “Duh!”, bear with me because some folks have spent some real money and time studying science-ignoring Americans.

In fact, a new study of 480 U.S. adults sought to gauge their acceptance of the attributes used to market cultured meat. Sure enough, the study found that when the products are marketed with “high-tech” attributes, consumers are significantly less likely to consume them. Groundbreaking stuff.

Marketers of fake meats already know that, of course, which is why they constantly tell consumers their products will help save the planet. They call it “clean meat,” meaning no animal participated in the production of the product. Emotion sells, and that’s hardly groundbreaking.

But since the study is complete, we’ll share the full conclusions. The authors, Christopher Bryant, Department of Psychology, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom; and Courtney Dillard, University Studies, Portland State University, Portland, OR, acknowledge some consumer uncertainty regarding the concept of cultured meat.

“In an experimental study, we expose (480) U.S. adults to one of three different frames on cultured meat: ‘societal benefits,’ ‘high tech,’ and ‘same meat.’ We demonstrate that those who encounter cultured meat through the ‘high tech’ frame have significantly more negative attitudes toward the concept, and are significantly less likely to consume it,” they wrote.

In other words, the makers of fake meats have run into the same hurdles American farmers and ranchers encounter when they use scientific advancements to raise crops or animals in a more efficient, animal friendly manner.

And, really, wasn’t this whole science-denying mess created by food marketers? First it was “natural foods,” then “range-free,” “no-GMOs,” “gluten-free,” the list is long. Just this week I saw a supermarket flier advertising “Earth Grown Beefless Crumbles or Chickenless Strips.” Seven meaningless words about the food products, yet classic emotional marketing.

Let’s break that label down. First, “Earth Grown.” That’s actually ALDI’s vegetarian store brand, chosen to elicit warm fuzzies from consumers who have never had dirt under their fingernails but saw something one time on YouTube about how food is supposed to be grown. Of course, pretty much everything is “earth grown,” except… lab grown meats!

Then there’s the “beefless crumbles” and “chickenless strips.” If you know nothing about fake meats, you assume the product is going to taste like ground beef or chicken strips. But this part of the label seems to defy every rule of traditional marketing, such as: sell the product first. And the most important attribute they have to sell is that it’s not beef or chicken. “Here, buy this. It’s not beef!”

So what is it? Well, the beef crumbles are $3.49 for 10 ounces. That’s $5.58 per pound, or 32% more than ALDI’s 85% lean ground beef. You already know those plant-based products have a list of ingredients longer than El Chapo’s rap sheet, so I’ll spare you the details. But the “Earth Grown Beefless Crumbles” contain 380 mg of sodium per serving, and just 12 grams of protein. Real beef? The 85% lean ground beef has 75 mg of sodium and 15 grams of protein. Now you know one reason why they don’t use science to sell the stuff.

Emotion sells. The beef industry has a great story to tell, one with plenty of science and, yes, emotion. The weather extremes of 2019 provide many examples of farmers and ranchers working 24/7 to care for their animals and maintain their stewardship of the land. Modern science has nothing to do with the love farmers and ranchers have for their land and animals. That’s an emotional attribute that has taken generations to grow.

Related stories:

Plant-Based Food Sales Rise 11%

Comments