How much does the name of food influence its consumption?

Can you imagine going back two or three generations and inviting our grandparents or great-great-grandparents to eat a hamburger? What would their reaction be? They might not even know what kind of food we are talking about and, if they did, they would probably not be very receptive as they would associate it with fast food far removed from their traditions. Perhaps if we replaced the term hamburger with Russian steak or minced beef, their reaction would be very different, won’t they?

It is just one example of the extent to which the name we give to food can influence our decision to eat it or not. The hamburger has had a very particular history in Spain, maybe because of its gastronomy culture. In the beginning, it was considered a fast food product. Today it has found its way onto the menus of many restaurants willing to compete for the best hamburger in the place, made with very high-quality meat and even turned into a signature dish in which chefs of all styles display their creativity.

How many people have ‘mistakenly’ tasted a ‘steak tartar’ without knowing 100% that they were dealing with a raw meat or fish dish? Would they have done so if it had called only ‘raw steak’?

We constantly make linguistic associations for socio-cultural reasons that influence our perception of things and, above all, create certain prejudices in the face of unfamiliar and novel products that, simply because they are new, we consider harmful to our health. We are reluctant to change, and sometimes this is a barrier in the food sector as in others. However, the sustainability of our food system today faces challenges that require immediate responses.

The production needed to feed the world’s growing population leads to overexploitation of natural resources that take an ever-increasing toll on our environment. Relying on the benefits of technology applied to the food sector is more necessary than ever to respond to international commitments such as the European Green Deal. As the demand for protein increases, there is an urgent need to look for nutrients and alternatives to diversify food options for the global population. The cultivation of animal cells and the extraction of plant protein for food production are some of these innovative solutions that, thanks to biotechnology, allow us to minimize the risks of animal-borne diseases and reduce the pollution generated by our current food system. The cultured meat we work on at Ethicameat offers an animal-friendly system and contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the use of water and soil, all of which are essential resources for our survival. The aim of this, and other alternative sources of protein, is to make products available to the consumer that allows us to have a more balanced, and consequently more sustainable, food production system.

In the US, it has been agreed to call meat produced from seafood cells cell-cultured. It has been recently announced by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after a long discussion with the major players in the industry. As early as the end of 2020, the FDA sent a request to companies producing cell-cultured meat or seafood to propose a possible designation. A study found that both the terms “cell-grown” and “cell-based” would adequately inform consumers and would neutrally present the product.

The European Parliament rejected an amendment calling for limiting designations such as ‘hamburger’, ‘sausage’, ‘steak’ and ‘escalope’ to traditional meat products only in October last year. The intention was to prohibit their use to refer, for example, to plant-based foods in these forms, such as the veggie burgers already on the market. The fact that plant-based products are coming onto the market in popular and internationally widespread formats such as sausages or hamburgers is, in our view, intended precisely to take advantage of the knowledge that we as consumers have of this type of food. Extending the typology of a product format established in our cultures, such as the hamburger or sausage, should not concern us as much as the environmental impact generated by its production.

There is a need for a clear, science-based regulatory system that supports new food production techniques, allows greater consumer choice, and improves food safety. Food sustainability must be underpinned by innovation, so any unjustified vetoes or language barriers to new products that aim for sustainability and progress in our food should be avoided.

Are you among the 41% of Spaniards willing to taste the cultured meat?

We have carried out the first survey of cultured meat in Spain! The aim was to analyze the perception we have of a new product, still unknown but called to lead the future of food. If you want to know the result, read on!

One of the biggest obstacles facing any innovative product is the lack of knowledge that we as consumers have. Even more, if we talk about food. A concrete definition of the product, which clearly explains its preparation and origin is very important.

Cultured meat is based on the natural construction of tissues from animal cells, developing controlled biological environments but without genetic modification. This process results in obtaining animal meat that respects the animal welfare since it avoids their sacrifice (the cell sample obtained from a simple biopsy). The purpose is to offer the consumer a product of high protein content, completely natural, nutritious, and sustainable with the environment, with savings in land and water resources and emissions generated by intensive livestock farming.

More demanding and aware of animal welfare

The main conclusion is that 41% of Spanish buyers say that they will probably taste the grown meat when it reaches the market. Of these, 21.7% say that “for sure” they would be willing to try these products. Men (24.1%) are somewhat more likely to test “for sure” than women (19.3%). Moreover, for an additional 19%, it would be “likely” to do so. On the other hand, 22% are still reluctant to try meat produced by non-traditional means.

Age matters too. 24% of respondents between the ages of 20 and 40 would try cultured meat, while for those between 41 and 55 the figure drops slightly to 19%.

While 85% of respondents define themselves as consumers of any type of meat, 35% say they have heard, read, or seen news and reports about the transmission of animal diseases to humans through food. Concern about these diseases is a very important variable in purchasing habits.

You should always look at what it says on the label! Logical. Nutritional values turn out to be another of the decisive aspects when it comes to valuing a food product. In this respect, 35% of surveyed consider that the composition of food is key to putting it in the shopping basket.

One of every three citizens considers cultivated meat to be healthier

And what is the overall assessment made by consumers? Well, 33.5% of those surveyed perceive these future meat products produced by non-traditional means to be healthier, in front of traditional industrial farming. Also, this type of products, among which is the ‘cultivated meat’, tend to project very appreciated values in our current society such as greater animal welfare (53%), food safety (40%), respect for the environment (42%) or benefits for people with obesity and cholesterol problems (38%).

Surveyed who are willing to try cultured meat admit that the aspects they find most convincing are the composition of the product (35%), its commitment to animal welfare (34%), and its nutritional values (24%).

However, the level of importance they place on each quality of cultured meat varies by age. Thus, for those who are between 20 and 40 years old, the most outstanding feature of the product is its commitment to animal welfare (71%) and no fat in its composition (70%). When we talk about consumers between 41 and 55 years old, the most valued thing is the nutritional value (70%) and healthy effect on people (60%). 

In general, less environmental impact and the need to raise animals, and the lower risks for public health are the possible benefits of cultured meat that are most attractive in our society and other countries.

Price is another aspect to consider when marketing a new product. 31% of surveyed believe that products made from cultured meat will have similar prices to traditional meat products. Conversely, 29% think that cultured meat products will have higher prices.

Would you be willing to try cultured meat?

[The survey was carried out through 1,000 online interviews (statistical margin of error of ± 3.2%), from 20 to 55 years old, currently living in five big Spanish cities based on weighting criterion on their populations: Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Seville, and Valencia. The average age of the respondents was 39,7].