From Hippo Meat to Lab-Grown Meat: Communication Matters

Shoppers today are voting with their dollars and increasingly making eco-conscious purchases; demand for low carbon footprint alternatives like meat substitutes is on the rise, and information about sustainability is readily available through a Google search. But, as more and more of these options enter the market, which alternatives will shoppers deem “too alternative?” For the meat industry, this question arose over a century ago and is back in the spotlight today.

In the early 1900s, high immigration rates, exploding urban areas, and lack of suitable ranching land led to a meat shortage in the United States. This scarcity was cause for concern among consumers, and the media dubbed it ‘The Meat Question.’ The Meat Question also reflected larger concerns about resources in America as well as the rise of consumer culture, and a solution was highly sought-after.

At one point during the shortage, two innovators and a Louisiana congressman thought they had found the solution: hippopotamuses. They proposed raising hippos in the swamps of Louisiana, land that was otherwise unused. A campaign using phrases like ‘water cow bacon’ was even launched to warm the public up to the idea of eating hippo meat. Though hippo never made its way into the American diet (largely due to miscommunication), we are still searching for alternative methods of sourcing meat. Lab-grown meat is one such developing alternative; does it have a better chance of catching on than hippo meat?

Soy, wheat protein, jackfruit, and even veggie burgers that bleed have become accepted as meat substitutes. Producers of lab-grown meat are optimistic that their product will catch on as well, but education will be needed to change negative perceptions and nudge shoppers over the ‘yuck factor.’ Communication—both in-store and out—will also play a key role in getting shoppers to gravitate towards particular brands within the emerging category.

Some companies are already starting to make moves to change consumer perceptions of lab-grown meat; The Good Food Institute, for example, is keen on rebranding lab-grown meat as clean meat.” It is yet to be seen what terminology and specific communication will appeal to discerning shoppers as they venture into this category, but emphasis on eco-friendliness will likely be an important message as scarcity of resources—and consumer awareness of this issue—grows. Shoppers may be seeking eco-friendly products, but brands and retailers must communicate these products’ benefits in order to facilitate purchase.

Image Source: Food Navigator