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Food safety concerns and nutrition will be the key drivers Chinese consumers to adopt cell-based products, a new consumer attitudes survey finds. Ethical and environmental advantages of cultured meats, on the other hand, fare lower on the list of priorities. The research sheds light on the potential marketing strategies that would be effective for alternative protein producers to capture the enormous Chinese market, with its huge population playing a critical role in the shift to a sustainable global protein supply chain.
Published in the peer-reviewed food science journal Foods, the new study reveals some of the motivators and barriers to consumer adoption of cell-based proteins in China. Involving more than 4,600 respondents across the country, the survey revealed that over half of the population (52.9%) would be willing to try the alternative protein, with the main considerations motivating consumers being food safety and nutrition, while the sustainability and animal welfare benefits associated with cultured meats were less important factors.
While half of the population would be willing to try cultured meats, only a fraction would agree to eat it on a regular basis, suggesting key barriers to mass adoption. Among some of the key challenges identified in the paper include the perceived “absurdity” or “unnaturalness” of the novel food, which is underpinned by consumers’ fears about food safety.
Ethics and environmental issues are not the main drivers of acceptance of artificial meat for Chinese consumers at this stage.
“For Chinese consumers, safety is the most important issue. In this context, perceived unnaturalness of artificial meat can induce a feeling of insecurity or emotional resistance and, thereby further lead to the rejection of this novel product with no willingness to eat regularly, which would be a difficult obstacle to overcome,” wrote the authors.
“Unlike in Western countries, ethics and environmental issues are not the main drivers of acceptance of artificial meat for Chinese consumers at this stage.”
There’s one caveat, however, with price being a key factor that could convince the masses to adopt cultured proteins – but it must go further than parity. According to the research, nearly 90% of the respondents said they would be willing to try cultivated meat if it cost less than its conventional counterparts.
One more factor that the researchers highlighted is curiosity, especially among richer, middle-class consumers who are searching for novel products as a part of their luxurious lifestyles. Around a quarter of the participants in the study cited their interest in trying something new as a motivator for trying cell-based meats.
“With the constant updat[ing] of novel concepts and the rapid increase of the middle-class in China, people are looking for luxury food with a high curiosity and acceptance of new products,” said the researchers, who added that this demographic was also most likely to consider animal welfare and ethical reasons as well.
Safety is the most critical expectation for artificial meat.
The findings point to the effective strategies that alternative protein makers should consider when it comes to marketing cell-based products in China, whose enormous population will have cascading effects on the entire global food supply chain and the shift to more sustainable sources of protein.
“According to the present results, it would make sense to focus on important issues for Chinese consumers to promote any type of food products,” the paper details. “Safety is the most critical expectation for artificial meat…To improve the acceptance of this novel food by the Chinese consumer, research and development should be driven by improvements in safety, taste, and nutrition value.”
Similar conclusions were made in a 2020 study conducted by researcher Chloe Dempsey, director at Cellular Agriculture Australia and graduate of Yenching Academy of Peking University. According to her survey, the ethical benefits of cultured meat were less important, while emphasising the stability and health aspects of the product in terms of nutrition and food safety would be particular points of appeal for Chinese consumers.
Other consumer data cautions against extrapolating these results to other Asian countries, with surveys conducted in other regions showing that shoppers do price in environmental benefits. In Singapore, for instance, a study found that a majority of consumers in the city-state – 78% – were willing to try cell-based seafood, and one of the most cited reasons for doing so was sustainability, followed by curiosity.
Lead image courtesy of Getty Images.