REPORT: Interest and Curiosity in Cellular Food Continues to Grow Among Consumers

The Canadian Food Innovation Network recently released a report titled Canadian FoodTech Trends: Interest and Curiosity in Cellular Food Continues to Grow. The report explores the growing practice of cellular agriculture and potential it poses to dramatically alter how we produce, purchase and consume food, while offering enormous financial opportunities to Canadian producers and exporters.
Working with Moncton, NB-based data science company Fiddlehead Technology to develop the report, consumer interest in cellular meat is examined, as well as the progress of and research and development in the sector by Canadian companies.

Here are three key takeaways from the report:

Researchers are prioritizing cellular food
Food scientists and engineers worldwide are diving into the cellular food sector. Fiddlehead found that there were 22,800 academic papers related to cultivated meat published in the past five years, roughly the same number of papers published in total before 2000.

Patent appllications for cellular meat are increasing
The U.S., where cultivated meat recently hit the market, had 596 patent applications for cellular meat in 2022, compared to just 48 before 2000. By comparison, there were no Canadian patent applications for cellular meat before 2000, and just 22 by 2022. At the same time, the number of Canadian companies producing cultivated meat continues to grow.

Regulatory hurdles still exist
While countries like the U.S. and Singapore already have regulatory approval for the sale of lab-grown meat, products for sale in Canada will need to go through the lengthy approval process for novel foods, as well as meeting requirements for food safety, labelling, marketing and other existing regulations. That could mean products will be slower to hit the market, while Canadian regulators re-examine the framework for cultivated meat and develop new regulations specific to the category.

The report also pays particular attention to the growth of cell-cultured meats. In addition to the standard regulatory hurdles that must be overcome in order to manufacture cell-cultured meats, the report offers a couple other challenges that are faced by the manufacturers of meat.

Consumer adoption
As with any new food product, the ultimate success of cellular meat depends on consumer acceptance. Current consumer internet searches related to cellular meat in the U.S. and Canada are consistent with the findings of a 2022 study analyzing 43 peer-reviewed articles on consumer attitudes towards the category. The study identified the most important factors influencing consumer adoption of lab-grown meat included public awareness and perceived naturalness. Food neophobia (the reluctance to try novel or unknown food) and uncertainties around health benefits and safety also represent important barriers. The study also found ethical and environmental concerns prompted consumer willingness to pay a premium price for meat substitutes, but not necessarily for cellular meat. Most cellular meat manufacturers are building brand promises based on animal welfare and sustainability. However, additional marketing efforts are required to raise consumer awareness of the cellular meat category and alleviate health and safety concerns. Monitoring news media and consumer internet searches can help identify key issues and inflection points in public sentiment. Consumer doubts about the taste and enjoyment of cellular meat will also need to be addressed by industry to ensure adoption.

Scaling production
According to the Good Food Institute (GFI), global investments in cellular meat total $2.78 billion USD since 2016 and $896 million (32%) was raised in 2022 alone. However, manufacturers will still require significant follow-on funding to scale production and reach price parity with conventional meat. If consumers prove reluctant to pay a premium for cellular meat based on ethical and environmental values alone, this path to price parity becomes even more important. But scaling production may present a significant challenge given the nascent supply chain for key inputs like massive bioreactors and the nutrient mix to feed cells. Manufacturers must therefore closely align with both their investors and supply chain partners on long-term growth plans. This will ensure they can survive a potentially protracted consumer adoption curve and avoid having financing or infrastructure become a bottleneck as the cultivated meet category matures. Monitoring patents and academic research can help identify innovative production technologies and partners to reduce manufacturing costs at scale, while improving key sensory attributes for cultivated meat like taste and texture.

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