Americans could be eating cultivated meat (also known as cell-based, lab-grown, or cultured meat) far sooner than previously expected, as food tech companies receive the "green light" from the Food and Drug Administration. Currently, about 80 percent of consumers are open to trying cultivated meat products, but this week, new research reveals that specific terminology could be the key to attracting customers to this more sustainable meat.

Chris Byrant of the Univesity of Bath and Marlana Malerich of the University of Edinburgh released a study concerning U.S. consumers' attitudes toward cultivated meat product labels. Most commonly, this innovative animal-free meat uses "cultivated" as established by the Good Food Institute and Bruce Friedrich. However, the study found that the most popular terms were "cell-cultured" and "cell-cultivated" meat. In contrast, terms such as "artificial" and "lab-grown" revealed low interest.

“We surveyed U.S. consumers to compare nine different labels for cultivated meat and seafood products in terms of appeal, purchase intent, perceived safety, perceived allergenicity, and clarity,” Bryant told Vegconomist. “We tested terms that were suggested by stakeholders in recent USDA and FDA calls for comments, as well as some additional terms.

“Some had proposed that these products be labeled ‘artificial’ meat or seafood, but we found that this terminology was not a good representation of the nature of the products, and led to many people mistakenly thinking they would be safe for allergy sufferers. On the other hand, we also tested a completely new term, ‘Novari’, but we found that this had very low levels of consumer understanding.”

The researchers concluded that cultivated meat brands should highlight the origin of the meat, including ingredient and allergen lists when appropriate. Most importantly, consumers linked "lab-grown" to negative associations, making them less likely to purchase and try sustainable meat. To the authors' knowledge, this is the first study to examine consumer response to cultivated meat labels.

“Overall, the terms ‘cultured’ and ‘cultivated’ performed well in terms of understandability, consumer appeal, and communication of safety and allergy status," Bryant said. "Adding the prefix ‘cell-‘ to these terms further increased understanding and clarity. Notably, none of the terms we tested were as well-understood as a short descriptive phrase (‘Grown from animal cells, not farmed or fished’). This suggests that including a short description could be optimal in terms of consumer understanding, and there could also be even better terms we have not yet tested."

Regulatory Approval for Cultivated Meat

This November, Upside Foods became the first company within the United States to receive the "No Questions" letter from the FDA, signaling a "green light" for the cultivated chicken industry. The letter allows Upside Foods to prepare for commercials sale, awaiting the full regulatory approval needed from the United States Department of Agriculture. Currently, Upside Food's EPIC facility is expected to produce 50,00 pounds of cultivated meat per year after opening, but is eventually, slated to reach a maximum capacity of 400,000 pounds per year.

Upside Foods is also working closely with acclaimed chef Dominque Crenn, who joined the company as a culinary advisor. Pending regulatory approval, Crenn will add the cultivated chicken to her Michelin-starred restaurant Atelier Crenn, marking the first time her menu has featured meat since 2018.

Plant-Based vs. Vegan

Terminology makes difference to shoppers, not only for cultivated meat but plant-based foods as well. About 88 percent of consumer care about the "authenticity" of their food, so when shoppers browse grocery stores, labels are essential. This December, ProvVeg International conducted two studies to determine the best labels for plant-based foods, finding that an overwhelming amount of consumers preferred "100 percent plant-based" over "vegan" or "vegetarian."

For more plant-based happenings, check out The Beet's News articles. 

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