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Marketing and Comms
Eating Your Values:
Depoliticizing Alternative Proteins for a Diverse Consumer Base

Studies have shown that urban and liberal-leaning US consumers are more likely to try alternative meat compared to rural and more conservative-leaning demographics. So, crafting messages that appeal to both audiences is vital.

The recent proliferation of plant-based meat replacements has the potential to significantly mitigate the environmental and ethical issues brought up by conventional meat production. But in 2022, they still only made up 1.4 percent of total retail food and beverage dollar sales in the US; and figures at a global level aren’t much higher, at least for the time being.

Cultivated meat, which is made from cells without the need to raise and kill animals, has the potential to yield similarly positive results for the environment and animal welfare when compared to traditional meat production; but its uptake has been similarly slow. With a market size valued at US$246.9 million in 2022, meat produced from animal cells is currently available in Singapore and will soon be in restaurants across the United States — thanks to the Department of Agriculture’s recent approval for cultivated offerings from GOOD Meat and UPSIDE Foods to be sold, opening the door to a world of opportunities for more food companies looking to enter the sector; but the power of the conventional meat lobby continues to keep real growth of cellular agriculture and other sustainable protein alternatives at bay.

Food and politics

Unfortunately, food — as with many issues critical to modern-day life — has become a political issue. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Communications experts understand that the way a message is conveyed can be the difference between failure and success; and perhaps the most vital aspect of effective messaging is to know your audience like the back of your hand. For example, studies have shown that urban and liberal-leaning consumers are more likely to try cultivated meat compared to rural and more conservative-leaning consumers.

But for an industry that aspires to reach as many people as possible, sending a message that appeals to both young, urban and liberal-leaning consumers as well as rural, older and conservative-leaning meat-eaters is vital.

Perhaps cultivated meat can learn from the mistakes of the plant-based industry. For example, part of the reason early market leader Beyond Meat has experienced net revenue losses recently (aside from supply chain shocks due to COVID and the war in Ukraine) may have to do with its myopic targeting of young, urban consumers while disregarding older, rural ones.

Helping conservatives jump on board

According to Pew Research, 65 percent of moderate or liberal Republicans agree that the US government needs to take stronger action to combat the effects of climate change. Therefore, companies shouldn’t be afraid to highlight the environmental benefits of meat grown from cells — which, according to the Good Food Institute, can potentially reduce the carbon footprint of meat production by 92 percent.

But how this message is given needs to be adapted differently for liberal and conservative consumers.

In the US, some of the most venerated conservative values center around limited government and individual liberty; so, it’s important to highlight the freedom of choice that cultivated meat offers to meat lovers, while empowering them to help the planet on their own terms.

Another value which is usually important to those with conservative views is national identity. Conservative Americans, for example, might be proud that the US is in the lead when it comes to food innovation (being only the second country, after Singapore, to approve cultivated meat at a national level).

There is also the possibility that China will approve cell-grown meat sooner than later and expand its cultivated products, and influence, to other parts of the world. For the US to remain competitive against China, continuing research, development and investment in this sector is imperative (and vice versa for China and other nations) — a rationale that many patriotic US conservatives would appreciate.

Tailoring the message

Marketing messages can and should be adjusted for different target markets. For example, a Facebook ad campaign for a demographic that tends to lean conservative (older, rural) should highlight both the universal (environmental responsibility) and conservative values that cultivated meat has the potential to reinforce.

It also shouldn’t be assumed that liberal-leaning (younger, urban) consumers will automatically embrace cultivated meat. Appealing to this audience by demonstrating the benefits of meat products made from animal cells (such as their positive impact on the planet and animal welfare, and the potential to eliminate the child-labor issues often associated with conventional meat production) is something that cannot be overlooked.

Uniting the world for the future of food

Food innovation that paves the way for planetary sustainability at an industrial level is something all of humanity should embrace. But for those attempting to convey that message, today’s politically charged environment cannot be disregarded.

By understanding this reality and properly adapting messages for consumer segments with their own interpretations of what is good or bad for the world, we can ensure a soft landing for these novel foods that have the potential to make the world a better place for everyone, for generations to come.