When we hear the phrase “alternative protein” in food-related news, we may think about the plant-based products that have grown in popularity over the past few years. And while plant-based burgers and nuggets have already piqued the curiosity of Americans, even more new and innovative proteins have recently hit the market—one of the most notable being cell-cultured meat. But what exactly do Americans think about these emerging alternative proteins? Additionally, what interests or causes hesitation among Americans when it comes to these products? A new IFIC survey aimed to find out.
- More than half of Americans have tried an alternative protein at least once, with general curiosity and a perception of healthfulness as driving factors.
- Over half of Americans consume animal meat daily, with taste, value, and general appearance being their top priorities when purchasing animal meat.
- Over two in five (42%) Americans would be interested in trying cell-cultured meat, while 51% say they would not be interested.
- Nearly two in three (62%) said that they would view “meat products that are grown in labs using the cells of animals” as “very” or “somewhat” safe if the USDA and the U.S. FDA approved the safety of these products.
Among consumers who have consumed an alternative protein before, plant-based beef products are the most commonly tried. Of the 57% who have tried an alternative protein, the most common alternative proteins ever tried are plant-based ground beef (31%) and plant-based beef alternative (23%), followed by plant-based sausage (22%) and plant-based chicken alternative (22%). When exploring demographic comparisons, those ages 18–34 and those with college degrees were more likely to say they have tried various alternative proteins, compared with their respective counterparts.
Curiosity is the most common reason for trying alternative proteins. The top-ranked reasons for trying an alternative protein for the first time were being curious about it (50%), believing it’s a healthier alternative (40%), and a recommendation from a friend or family member (30%). However, while curiosity and perceptions of healthfulness motivate consumers to try an alternative protein for the first time, this experience doesn’t necessarily lead to repeated consumption—22% of those who’ve tried an alternative protein before shared that they did not consume the product again after trying it, with the most common reason cited being a lack in similarity in taste to conventional animal meat (51% saying so).
Upon being provided definitions of various alternative proteins, consumers were most interested in trying cell-cultured meat and fermented protein. Respondents were provided with the following definitions:
- Cell-cultured meat and seafood (also called cultivated meat) is made by controlled laboratory technology that allows for the production of animal meat from in-vitro grown (outside of the body) animal cells from poultry or livestock. This form of meat development does not require an animal to be slaughtered in order for the final meat product to be created.
- Insect protein comes from specific insects that are grown and harvested for the purpose of human consumption.
- Mycoprotein is a protein source grown to have a “meat-like” texture from Fusarium venenatum, a naturally occurring fungus that is edible.
- Precision-fermentation protein is made with the use of microorganisms, such as fungi or microalgae, to make protein ingredients that are identical to animal proteins.
Upon receiving these definitions, the alternative proteins that garnered the greatest interest were cell-cultured meat (42% said they were interested) and fermented protein (37%), followed by mycoprotein (36%) and insect protein (29%). It is worth noting that interest seems to be growing; in IFIC’s 2021 Consumption Trends, Preferred Names, and Perceptions of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives Survey, only 24% of consumers shared that they would be interested in cellular or lab-grown protein, and only 27% said that they were interested in fermented food products.
Curiosity and perceptions of environmental sustainability drive interest for trying cell-cultured meat. Among those interested in trying cell-cultured meat, the top reasons behind this are “I am curious about it” (32%), “it seems more environmentally sustainable” (28%), and “it does not require animal slaughter” (28%).
Consumers who had lower levels of interest in cell-cultured meat, or who were not sure about their interest, were shown images of a conventional and cultivated burger and provided with more information about the availability of the product on the U.S. market. Then, when asked to imagine that cell-cultured meat is approved for use by the U.S. government, the top-ranking factors that would impact this group’s willingness to try cell-cultured meat were taste or texture (36% ranked this factor in their top-three reasons), price (28%), and safety (23%). Men and those ages 18–34 were more likely to say that knowing more about the product in general would impact their willingness to try, compared with their respective counterparts. Meanwhile, women and older consumers were more likely to say that nothing would make them want to try cell-cultured products, compared with their respective counterparts.
Survey results were derived from online interviews of 1,000 adults conducted from May 2nd to May 5th, 2023, by Dynata. They were weighted to ensure proportional representation of the U.S. population, with a margin of error of ±3.1 points at the 95% confidence level.