Despite rising interest in non-animal-based protein sources, there is a lack of information about consumer demand for these new foods as well as their ultimate market potential. A new study, published in the journal Food Policy, reported the results of a nationwide survey of more than 1,800 U.S. consumers who completed a choice experiment in which they selected among conventional beef and three alternative burger patties -- lab grown, plant based with pea protein and plant based with animal-like protein -- at different prices.
According to Statista, the U.S. alternative protein market value is expected to increase from $10.1 billion in 2018 to $30.9 billion by 2026. To capitalize on this growth, substantial investments have been made in the development of plant-based and lab-grown meats in recent years. Plant-based burger patties have been developed that create an eating experience designed to mimic the taste and texture of real beef, going beyond the veggie burgers of the past. In addition to the new plant-based burgers, several startups are currently developing meat by culturing animal cells. As such, the study authors said it is likely that these lab-grown meat patties will soon become available to consumers.
Still, burgers are one of the most popular menu items in the U.S., making it important to better understand how the new products may affect the ground beef market, the authors said.
Holding prices constant and conditional on choosing a food product, the study found that 72% of consumer participants chose farm-raised beef, and 28% chose one of the alternatives: 16% opted for the pea protein plant-based meat alternative, 7% for the plant-based animal-like protein alternative and 5% for the lab-grown meat. Adding brand names -- such as Certified Angus Beef, Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Memphis Meats -- further increased the share of consumers who chose farm-raised beef, to 80%.
Results further showed that environment and technology information had minor effects on conditional market shares but reduced the share of people not buying any options, indicating that information pulled more people into the market.
“Overall, our study finds that information only has a small impact on consumer choice, although the impact varies depending on the types of benefits communicated to the consumers,” the authors noted. “For instance, providing information on environmental and animal welfare benefits of the meat alternatives has the largest effect on the share of consumers with positive preferences for lab-grown, plant-based using pea protein and using animal-like proteins produced by yeast, respectively.”
Even when prices of plant- and lab-grown alternatives were significant reduced (e.g., by 50%), farm-raised beef still maintained the majority market share.
Further, vegetarians, males, younger people and more highly educated individuals tend to have relatively stronger preferences for the plant- and lab-grown alternatives relative to farm-raised beef.
The study also delved into whether consumers believed conventional beef should be taxed for environmental and animal welfare objectives. Most consumers opposed the concept.
Also, since there has been much debate with respect to plant-based and lab-grown meat labeling, consumers were asked whether these products should be labeled as “beef.” The study found that more than 70% of respondents preferred that plant-based and lab-grown alternatives should be prohibited from using the label “beef,” while 19-30% supported it. The majority of consumers (81%) also said they would support a policy requiring that any product labeled as “beef” must come from cattle that have been born, raised and harvested in the traditional manner, rather than coming from alternative sources such as from plants, insects or other non-animal components and any product grown in labs from animal cells.
Although the findings suggest that the alternative market is still more of a “niche,” the authors noted, “With more plant-based alternatives coming to market and consumers becoming more familiar with these products and with the respective brands, it remains interesting to see whether the demand for these products changes as more alternatives become available at the foodservice and retail level and consumers become more familiar with the alternatives to conventional beef.”