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What’s in a name? GFI consumer insights can help producers tell the story of their novel food

Article-What’s in a name? GFI consumer insights can help producers tell the story of their novel food

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The Good Food Institute’s (GFI) 2023 State of the Industry reports show that using the right language can help novel food producers better reach consumers, many of whom often remain ignorant about emerging foods and food production technologies.

The reports outline the year’s most important developments in fermentation; plant-based meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy; and cultivated meat and seafood. Consumer research in each area shows an increasing body of knowledge on the effect of nomenclature and messaging on consumer behaviour.

Precision fermentation: Consumers like to eat ‘animal-free’

GFI and global professional services company Accenture tested several names and descriptions of fermented products and the fermentation process to uncover the most appealing and effective way to introduce consumers to the concept and to entice shoppers to try fermented products. The study focused specifically on precision-fermented dairy and eggs in four European countries and the US – testing different phrases in four different languages (English, Spanish, German, and French).

One of the key takeaways is that the terms “animal -free” and “non-animal” carried the most positive connotations across these markets. There was more variability with the usage of the term “fermentation” – while French and Spanish respondents associate the word positively with good health, US and UK respondents found it less appealing. The term “brewing” made respondents in Germany and the UK feel more familiar with the process, but it did not rank very highly in terms of overall appeal.

The GFI report also noted that consumer awareness and familiarity of precision fermentation remains low, citing among other sources a 2023 Morning Consult poll conducted for GFI that showed that just 30% of US adults have ever heard of “meat from mycoprotein” and less than half (48%) have heard of “animal-free dairy”.

However, the more encouraging finding from consumer research is that consumers in several countries are open to trying and purchasing fermented products – especially if the process is explained simply with “relatable examples” of host microorganisms and produced ingredients, and if consumers are convinced that the final product is the same as the conventional product.

‘Cultivated’ tastes better than ‘lab grown’

Using the right nomenclature seems even more crucial in the cultivated meat and seafood category. GFI cites consumer research that shows clearly that the term “cultivated” on packaging rates highly with consumers in terms of clarity, comfort, and appeal. “Lab grown” and “cell cultured”, on the other hand, are rated much more negatively.

It is no surprise that opponents of the novel technology seem drawn to the latter terms. A recent negative advert campaign from the Center for the Environment and Welfare – an organisation with ties to the animal agriculture industry – uses the “lab meat” concept to scare off consumers by drawing comparisons with cancer cells. With the technology seemingly becoming more politically polarising, with American states like Florida and Tennessee acting to ban sale and production of cultivated meat earlier in 2024, and with similar legislation enacted in Italy in late 2023 and France in January 2024, it seems likely that the terminology will become increasingly contested.

Notwithstanding these recent legislative developments and media attention, the GFI report finds that the level of awareness of US consumers with cultivated meat did not change significantly from 2018 to 2023. And, as the Institute found with fermentation products, more and more people are interested in trying cultivated meat; especially if they learn more about the process and the similarities with traditional meat.

Emerging plant-based meat categories

Compared to the more novel and technologically complex categories of cultivated meat and precision-fermented foods, plant-based food is a relatively straightforwardly named and well-understood category. Reflecting on the state of the industry, GFI notes that there has been a significant recently reported increase in plant-based meat consumption, with health and environmental benefits as the primary motivators.

GFI does note the need for further research and alignment on nomenclature within the emerging “blended meat” and “hybrid meat” categories. In recent years, more products have come out that combine conventional meat with plant protein, mycoprotein, or vegetables – often referred to as ‘blended meat’; as well as hybrid meat, which GFI defines as “alternative protein products made from multiple production platforms”. Little research has been conducted on effective and clear messaging and terminology for these products and production methods.