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State of the Plate

Your serving of field-to-fork news.

Nov 202019

Our emerging reality? New Research on Lab-Grown and Synthetic Food

Are synthetic food products real? Yes.

Will they have an impact on your job? Probably.

Are Americans willing to accept lab-produced and synthetic food? Let’s ask them.

An independent survey on new food technologies

In collaboration with our research partners, Maeve Webster of MenuMatters and independent survey company Confidential Consumer, Charleston|Orwig just completed a new survey on some of the mind-bending products finding their way to market. Here are key findings along with definitions to guide your exploration into new food technologies. For additional information and content, you can access our Five in 15 webinar on the topic here.

Skepticism and concern but some are willing to accept

Let’s start at the very edge—protein created from air, water and electricity. A Finnish company called Solar Foods has invented a product called Solein. This protein, Solar Foods says, could revolutionize food production.

Surprisingly, some consumers are interested in trying it.

Synthetic food—consumer interest divided by age

As with other studies conducted by C|O, including a recent one on “clean” labels, American preference and concern related to food and agriculture is divided by age.

Those 18-24 are significantly more interested in trying even very unusual foods compared to those 65 and over. It is important to note that younger groups are also more concerned about the sustainable production of what they eat while demanding transparency that extends back to the farm gate.

Some concerns transcend age

Health concerns top all lists of worries with synthetic food and lab-grown meat. This, however, is not the only driver. Animal welfare and environment/sustainability also come into play.

We have also seen this general sentiment in our other research related to food label claims such as antibiotic free or free range. (Food label survey conducted summer 2018.) Consumer purchase influencers have shifted, driven by factors from activist pressure to increased knowledge about food production and farming to marketer response.

Beyond wariness, consumers also see potential benefits

While sometimes unsettling, new technologies can also have a very positive impact. Pasteurization revolutionized food safety. American farmers are increasingly using satellite imagery to maximize crop yields. So, what do consumers see as some of the promises for synthetic and lab-grown food?

Plant-based protein—here to stay, not to dominate

For all the hype and intense consumer interest, Beyond Burgers® and Impossible Burgers™ are not going to make meat obsolete. Global consumption of these and similar plant-based proteins is predicted to continue to slowly increase right along with various synthetic meats, cultured meats and assorted alternative meats. (Calling them meat is currently the subject of legal battles in states and now part of a bill in Congress.)

Change is coming, but not tomorrow

When you work in food and ag, you start to see the churn on emerging categories such as lab-grown food and begin to take them for granted as mainstream. They are far from that just yet. These foods are coming onto America’s radar, though, and worth watching. Some will end up at fast food chains, food service or your local grocer.

Consumer awareness of alternative foods

When you look at the chart above, though, remember that The Impossible Burger was still being tested in up-scale restaurants and burger bars just a few years ago. Those small percentages will certainly grow. Once the concept is shared, the chart below shows that many consumers realize new food choices are emerging.

Do these products have a place in the food industry?

C|O Insight

You have seen the terms over and over—cellular agriculture, alternative meat, lab-grown meat, synthetic food. We don’t know yet whether a lab-grown chicken nugget, synthetic vegan ice cream or even wine created in a laboratory will become part of our “regular” food world. We do know that these innovations and technologies will continue to complicate messaging, marketing and brand building.

Our team at C|O builds, bolsters and protects brands across food and agriculture and around the globe. Give us a call when the time is right. Let’s talk about how to reach your audiences in new ways with compelling messages as the landscape in which we work continues to get more and more complicated.

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