Lab-Grown Meat Faces a Culture Clash on the Road to Mainstream Success

In order to achieve widespread adoption with consumers, lab-grown meat must overcome perception issues on multiple fronts
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork
July 01, 2024 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • Democrats are far more likely than Republicans and independents to have positive perceptions of lab-grown meat, particularly when it comes to its environmental impact.

  • Once it is readily available to consumers, lab-grown meat will need to overcome price sensitivity as consumers are less likely to think it’s affordable or provides good value compared to both traditional and plant-based meat.

  • Aging consumers represent a potential market for the burgeoning industry, as 27% of baby boomers say they are on a meat-reduction diet.

Data Downloads

Pro+ subscribers are able to download the datasets that underpin Morning Consult Pro's reports and analysis. Contact us to get access.

Data file
A sortable CSV file of survey results among U.S. adults and Morning Consult’s standard demographics.
About Pro+
A brief outline of what datasets are included in Morning Consult Pro+.
1 Bytes

Sign up to get the latest global brand, media and marketing news and analysis delivered to your inbox every morning.

In 2024, it’s impossible to predict what will become a political flashpoint, and probably best to assume that the threat of partisan division hangs over nearly every aspect of society. The latest victim? Meat. Specifically lab-grown (also known as “cultivated”) meat, a burgeoning innovation that proponents say could be better for the environment, for animals and for humans’ health than the existing meat industry. 

But even before these new products have hit the market, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill banning the manufacturing and distribution of lab-grown meat in May, with Alabama following suit shortly after and similar efforts currently underway in other states. At the core, DeSantis’ basis for the bill is to preserve the state’s beef industry and ensure the relevance of farmers and ranchers, but messaging related to the legislation tapped into common political jabs about the “authoritarian goals” of the “global elite.” In order to achieve mainstream success, companies in the space will have to get past this partisan divide, as well as numerous other perception issues.

Partisan politics influence perceptions of cultivated meat

News about lab-grown meat has crossed the political spectrum, with similar shares of Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike saying they’d seen, read or heard about the food industry innovation. But, perhaps unsurprisingly given the nature of the coverage, perceptions diverge according to political party affiliation. Across a number of characteristics, Democrats are far more likely than both Republicans and independents to have a net positive perception of lab-grown meat (net is the share who say a particular characteristic describes a product well minus the share who say it doesn’t, and is a useful tool in this case to control for variations in the share who say they don’t know or don’t have an opinion).

Perceptions of various aspects of lab-grown meat vary by political party affiliation

Net share of respondents who said the following characteristics describe lab-grown meat well
Morning Consult Logo
Net is the share who say a particular characteristic describes lab grown meat well minus the share who say it doesn’t
Survey conducted May 31 - June 2, 2024, among a representative sample of 2,201 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

On the positive side, the share of respondents who believe lab-grown meat to be good for the environment is net positive across the political spectrum. Still, Republicans were far more likely to say that was true of traditional meat (net 41) than cultivated meat (net 7). 

To gain mainstream adoption, lab-grown meat will have to overcome perception issues on multiple fronts

Politically-influenced perceptions aside, cultivated meat has a long way to go to gain favor with mainstream audiences. When compared against both traditional meat and plant-based meat, lab-grown meat received lower net perception scores in every category. 

The largest net-negative for lab-grown meat is the perception that it is more processed than both traditional and plant-based meat products. Given the way lab-grown meat is created, this is based in reality — in fact, some experts have referred to it as “ultra-processed.” And while at the core this may not be a positive or negative trait, the challenge is that consumers define foods that are more processed as being more unhealthy. In order to win over mainstream consumers, companies in this space will have to be clear about the production process; even if it raises concerns for some, the transparency may help to build trust among others.

Unfortunately, a bigger issue may be affordability: both “affordable” and “of good value” scored net negative for lab-grown meat as well. While plant-based meats also received an overall negative in affordability, good value was significantly more positive, suggesting that brands in the space have done a good job of demonstrating the value of higher price tags. 

Traditional meat and plant-based meat are perceived more positively than lab-grown meat

Net share of respondents who said the following characteristics describe different types of meat well
Morning Consult Logo
Net is the share who say a particular characteristic describes lab grown meat well minus the share who say it doesn’t
Survey conducted May 31 - June 2, 2024, among a representative sample of 2,201 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

It’s worth noting that plant-based meat has made some strides in this area in recent years. The share who say it’s a good value has increased by 6 points since early 2023 as it becomes more widely distributed and accepted. But at the same time, the share who say it’s good for the environment has decreased by 6 points. This is where lab-grown meat could possibly play. The net share of those who see lab-grown meat as environmentally-friendly is 19, making it the best-performing characteristic. Given declining perceptions of plant-based meat as environmentally-friendly, brands in the cultivated meat space have an opportunity to position themselves as a sustainable alternative to win market share — that is, if they can prove that it is actually true.

Aging consumers who are reducing meat intake represent a possible audience

As a new consumer category, the lab-grown meat industry will want to focus not just on consumers who represent an obvious best fit, but also those who may represent incremental gains. Perhaps surprisingly, this may come in the form of older consumers. When asked about a series of dietary approaches and restrictions, only small fractions of consumers said they complied with more restrictive approaches like vegetarian, gluten-free or vegan diets. And among those who said so, younger consumers were more likely to be practicing these approaches. However, the opposite is true among those who say they follow a meat-reduction diet (eating meat generally, but trying to eat less) — not only is this a more popular approach than others, but the group most likely to participate is baby boomers.

It’s likely this is happening as baby boomers age and are advised to cut back on cholesterol and saturated fat, both of which are present in higher quantities in traditional meat. And because the reduction is being driven more by health needs than taste or desire, meat alternatives — for example lab-grown meat that has been engineered to be lower in cholesterol and fat — stand to be a good stand-in for those trying to cut back.

Older consumers are less likely to be familiar with lab-grown meat

Shares who said they had seen, read, or heard “a lot” or “some” about lab-grown meat
Morning Consult Logo
Survey conducted May 31 - June 2, 2024, among a representative sample of 2,201 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

That said, there is much room for education among baby boomers. When asked how much they had seen, read or heard about lab-grown meats, only 3% of the generation said “a lot,” compared to 11% of millennials and 14% of Gen Zers. And among all generations, baby boomers are the only one with a net negative perception that lab-grown meat is nutritious. But the biggest challenge with this group will be addressing price, as they are 19 points less likely than all adults to say that it is a good value, and 21 points less likely to say it’s affordable.

Lindsey Roeschke is a travel & hospitality analyst. Lindsey’s work focuses on behavior and expectations in travel (among other categories), particularly through a generational and cultural lens. In addition to her research and advisory background, Lindsey has more than a decade of experience in the advertising world.
We want to hear from you. Reach out to this author or your Morning Consult team with any questions or comments.Contact Us