Does Brand or Information Impact Consumer Preferences for Meat Alternatives?

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In a recent research study published in the Food Policy journal, researchers evaluated consumer preferences for various types of meat. They compared preferences for farm-raised, lab-grown and plant-based meat from 1800 U.S. consumers, and assessed how their choices were impacted by product information and branding.

In the U.S., meat consumption per capita is among the highest in the world. While beef burgers have been very popular for a long time, new innovative meat alternatives have also emerged and gained popularity. According to the Plant Based Foods Association, there was more than 20% growth in the plant-based meat category in 2018. However, “there is still a great deal of uncertainty about consumers’ preferences for these alternative products and ample speculation about the ultimate size of this market,” the researchers write.

According to FAO data, the U.S. “consumed” about 124 kg of meat per capita in 2017, the highest in the world among countries like Australia, New Zealand and Argentina. Source: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/meat-supply-per-person

Research Findings

In the study, those surveyed had to choose between conventional beef and three alternative burger patties – including lab-grown, plant-based from pea protein, and plant-based from animal-like protein (i.e. the Impossible Burger). It should be noted that this is one of the first studies that sets out to evaluate the effects of information or brand on choice. Information included things like environmental impact and animal welfare. Conventional beef being resource-intensive, it’s argued that plant-based and lab-grown alternatives have significantly lower environmental impact. To evaluate the effect of the above on consumer preferences, a discrete choice experiment (DCE) was conducted. In short, consumers had to make simulated retail choices between competing products at different prices, and under different information and branding conditions.

The study found that holding prices constant and conditional on choosing a food product (i.e. excluding those who did not choose a product), 72% of respondents chose farm-raised beef and 28% chose one of the alternatives: 16% plant-based (pea protein), 7% plant-based (animal-like protein) and 5% lab-grown. Adding brand names such as Certified Angus Beef, Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, or Memphis Meats increased the share for choosing farm-raised meat to 80%. Environment and technology information had minor effects on product choices, however it did reduce the share of people not buying any options.

consumer preferences
Image taken from study, it showcases two different examples of choice sets, with and without brand names.

Even when reducing plant- and lab-grown alternatives’ price (by up to 50%), farm-raised beef maintained the majority market share. “Vegetarians, males, younger, 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 found.

The study also evaluated respondent’s preferences for different policies surrounding the alternative meat products. The researchers discovered that more respondents were opposed than not to taxing conventional beef for environmental and animal welfare objectives. Additionally, over 70% were opposed to having plant- and lab-grown alternatives use the label beef. In the U.S., many argue that food can only be labeled as meat when “harvested from animals raised in the traditional matter“. In fact, twenty-five U.S. states forbid the use of meat and beef but also the use of meat-related terms such as burger and hot dog when the product is not made of animal meat derived from conventional production.

Takeaway on Consumer Preferences

Overall, more consumers chose conventional beef to the alternatives. Brand names increased the share of consumers choosing conventional beef by 8 percentage points. In the study, the brand name used was Certified Angus, which could have played a role in the choice process as it is a familiar and trusted brand name in the U.S.. Additionally, information only had a small impact, but this impact varied according to the types of benefits communicated. It was found that animal welfare and environmental impact had the most positive effects on alternatives. Information also helped pull more consumers into the market.

Finally, it’s true that out of the three alternatives proposed, lab-grown is currently the furthest from being technologically and commercially available. It was found to be the least desirable of the products studied. However, these results could rapidly change when these alternatives launch on the market and consumers get to taste them.

You can find more information in the full study published in July 2020 HERE. Don’t hesitate to share your comments below!

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