What Do Plant-Based Buyers Think About Cultivated Meat?

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At Moonshot Collaborative, we help our clients understand consumers of alternative proteins and sustainable products. And within the alt protein space, we have focused even further on plant-based products, because we know we can best help the companies that are already in the market – or entering it soon. But we’re keeping our eye on other meat and dairy technologies, including processes like fermentation and products like “cultivated” meat. 

What is cultivated meat? 

If you’re not familiar with it, cultivated meat is real meat grown from animal cells in a controlled environment without slaughtering any animals. This new way of producing meat has incredible potential for people, animals, and the planet, but also faces significant challenges. 

One of those challenges is naming. The original term was either “lab” meat or “in vitro” meat (“in vitro” means that something was produced outside of a living organism). But this novel kind of meat has since been called “clean” meat, “cell-based” meat, “cultured” meat, and a host of other terms. The nascent industry has yet to choose a single term, so we thought it would be interesting to see what current alt protein consumers think. 

Plant-based buyers’ preferred terms for cultivated meat

Moonshot Collaborative’s unique consumer panel reflects the attitudes and behavior of the roughly 40% of US adults that buy plant-based meat, dairy, and/or eggs. In November 2021, we asked nearly 700 of them what terms they prefer for meat grown from animal cells. Our findings underscore the challenge faced by companies operating in the space:

Consumer naming preference for cultivated meat
Data collected November 2021. Sample size: 676 plant-based buyers

We were surprised to see that “lab-grown” was the most popular term among plant-based buyers. However, the much bigger takeaway, in our opinion, is that none of the terms that we presented were selected as the preferred term by more than 17% of consumers. And 16% of respondents chose “none of the above.” 

Alas, “lab-grown” is a non-starter. First, it is inaccurate given that most cultivated meat will be produced at scale in facilities that more closely represent commercial kitchens. Second, it’s just not an appealing association – and not one that the industry would wear proudly – given the associations that some people have with laboratories (e.g., animal testing, virus research). 

Two of the terms we tested – “lab-grown” and “synthetic” – are reportedly being considered by the USDA for labeling these new products. Either would be a PR problem for the industry; how many consumers really want to eat something “synthetic?” Similarly, based on our research, “cell-based” and “cell-cultured” were least likely to resonate with today’s alt protein consumers. 

So… clean, cultured, or cultivated meat?

This leaves us with three possible terms. “Clean meat” has been advocated by industry leaders like the Good Food Institute, but has met some resistance in part because it has negative connotations in other cultures. “Cultured meat” is used by some, but is also used in a number of other food categories (e.g., cheese, yogurt) and may lead to confusion. 

Lastly, there is “cultivated meat” which has many of the same benefits of “cultured” and “clean,” but without the same potential for confusion or cultural problems. While no term is perfect, we think calling this novel form of meat “cultivated” is not only accurate, but also conjures associations with farming and craftsmanship. 

What do you think? Join the discussion on LinkedIn.

And if you need help naming your new company, brand, product, or process, getting feedback from today’s alternative protein consumers is a great place to start. With our panel of plant-based buyers, Moonshot Collaborative might just be your ideal partner.

Schedule a call with us to find out

Photo by Szabo Viktor on Unsplash

Che Green

Che is a co-founder of Moonshot Collaborative and a 25-year consumer research veteran who has helped startups, established businesses, and nonprofits succeed in their goals to help protect the environment, public health, and animal welfare.