Lab-grown meat (and plant-based meat) has been a major topic of discussion in cattle groups over the past few years. Most of this discussion has centered around questions and speculative answers. The first questions centered around “Can beef really be grown in a lab?” The answer to that one has proven to be yes. The next logical question is “how much will it cost?” I’ve seen plenty of guesses but nothing concrete. The most interesting and perhaps most important question has always been “will anyone actually eat it?” Newly released research by Dr. Jayson Lusk at Purdue University and others provide some insight into this question as detailed in his blog post last week.
“With all the news about Beyond Meat’s stock price and the rolling out of the Impossible Burger at Burger King, there has been a lot of speculation about how consumers might response and about the ultimate size of this market. In a new paper with Ellen Van Loo and Vincenzina Caputo, I’m pleased to bring some hard data to the these debates.
What did we do? We surveyed about 1,800 U.S. food consumers earlier this year and asked them to make a number of simulated shopping choices. In each choice, consumers had five options: conventional farm-raised beef, a plant-based burger made with pea protein (i.e., Beyond Meat), a plant-based burger made with animal-like protein (i.e., Impossible Foods), labgrown meat (i.e., Memphis meats), or they could choose not to buy any of the products (i.e., “none”). Respondents were randomly allocated to different treatments that varied the use of brand names (present/absent) and the information that was provided (none, environment information, or technology information).”
What did they find? At constant prices and conditional on choosing a food product, “72% of respondents chose farm-raised beef, 16% plant-based (pea protein) meat alternative, 7% plant-based (animal-like protein) meat alternative, and 5% lab-grown meat. Adding brand names (Certified Angus Beef, Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and Memphis Meats) actually increased the share choosing farm-raised beef to 80%.”
“Even if plant- and lab-based alternatives experienced significant (e.g., 50%) price reductions, farm-raised beef maintains majority market share. Vegetarians, males, and younger, more highly educated individuals tend to have relatively stronger preferences for the plant- and lab-based alternatives relative to farm-raised beef. Respondents are strongly opposed to taxing conventional beef and to allowing the plant- and lab-based alternatives to use the label “beef.”
Lusk closes by saying “Because these are new products just hitting the market, it is possible that these preferences can and will change, particularly when more consumers are able to taste them. However, at present, the future market potential for these products appears to fit more in the “niche” category, even at significant price discounts. What will happen in the future? Only time will tell.”