Seed Grantee - Sarah Cook

Our 2023 seed grantee Sarah updates us on her research.

What good is a sustainable and ethical food alternative if we won’t be eating it?

By Sarah Cook

As Australia moves closer to approving cell-based foods, we asked 1013 Australians how they felt about the prospect of eating cultivated seafood. It was back in 2013 that we saw the first cultivated meat burger patty emerge from a lab in the Netherlands. 10 years on, the conversation is beginning to shift away from “How are we going to do it”, to, “Are people actually going to eat it”. Now, the some 150+ cellular agriculture companies worldwide are absolutely interested in answering this question. 

At present, almost all consumer perceptions research for cell-based foods focus on meat products. People’s consumption of seafood is not like other meats, whether due to allergies or stern preference due to taste or type of organism, and it can be quite a personalized preference (Christenson, et al., 2017). It would therefore be presumptuous to assume that we can group consumer perceptions of cultivated seafood products with cultivated meat. 

One of the greatest potential benefits that cultivated products can achieve is to reduce environmental impacts of our food systems. At this stage, early life cycle assessments across all cultivated products indicate that due to the lower energy needs to produce cultivated seafood compared to many meat products, it may be a front-runner for some of the first cell-based products hitting our shelves (gfi.org, 2022). Now is the perfect time to distinguish cultivated meat and cultivated seafood in the consumer perceptions space. 

Our study tested whether fact-based environmental messaging might change consumer perceptions of cultivated seafood. We described to participants a broad number of environmental topics for different seafood systems, with participants given either the factual environmental message, or just a few simple defining sentences in order to test the effect of the messaging. We also tested general demographics and included some variables which measure individuals’ relationship to the natural world around them. After this, participants were asked about their attitudes and intentions to eat or try cultivated seafood. 

Our environmental messaging  didn’t increase people's intention to choose to eat or try cultivated seafood. We found that overall people generally held positive attitudes towards cultivated seafood, but negative intentions to eat and try it. What was the barrier here? Participants were not choosing cultivated seafood over traditional seafood systems. Interestingly, we did find that attitudes and intentions towards these traditional and existing seafood systems were lower after receiving environmental messaging. So, the messaging did work, just not for the uptake of cultivated seafood. 

We found that Australian consumers had underlying belief systems which were influencing their attitudes and intentions towards cultivated seafood. Participants who had higher solidarity with animals were more inclined to have positive intentions towards cultivated seafood. The same could be said for participants with higher nature relatedness scores, the more positive intentions towards cultivated seafood were held. Lastly, we found that greater consumption of seafood was an indicator of both positive attitudes and positive intentions for cultivated seafood. 

It is essential to continue to better understand cultivated seafood perceptions as we get closer to  some of the first novel proteins to enter the market in Australia. The insights from this study will help us to make future investigations into consumer perceptions of cultivated seafood deeper and more targeted. Further, the key takeaways will provide important insights for regulatory and policy, as well as for cellular agriculture businesses across Australia. 

References:

  • gfi.org. (2022). Climate benefits of alternative seafood. [online] Available at: https://gfi.org/resource/climate-benefits-of-accelerating-global-production-of-alternative-seafood/ [Accessed 11 Jan. 2024].
  • Christenson, J.K., O’Kane, G.M., Farmery, A.K., McManus, A., (2017) The barriers and drivers of seafood consumption in Australia: A narrative literature review, International Journal of Consumer Studies 41(3) pp. 299-311, https://doi.org/10.1111/ijcs.12342

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