Cultivated meat: A growing nomenclature consensus
Consumer and industry preferences
In September 2019, UPSIDE Foods and The Good Food Institute (GFI) released the results of consumer research that we conducted with Mattson, North America’s most successful independent food and beverage innovation firm. That research indicated that the strongest term for meat produced through cellular (rather than conventional) agriculture is “cultivated meat,” as I discussed in some depth here.
UPSIDE CEO Uma Valeti noted, “This made sense to us, since we’d already been referring to ‘cultivating meat in cultivators.’ I like the consistency.”
Fork & Goode CEO Niya Gupta said, “I like ‘cultivated meat’ because it’s generic, like ‘organic.’ It can cover a very complex process that we have to be transparent about.”
Since that work, quite a few companies have been using “cultivated meat” as their primary nomenclature. For GFI’s 2020 industry report, our analysis indicated that 37 percent of companies were using “cultivated,” 25 percent of companies were using “cultured,” and 18 percent of companies were using “cell-based.” The final 20 percent were using a variety of other terms to describe their meat production process.
That has changed—a lot.
Companies now prefer “cultivated meat” by a wide margin
In September 2021, we polled company CEOs on their preferences and found a significant shift, with 75 percent of the 44 companies that replied preferring “cultivated.” “Cultured meat” comes in second at 20 percent, and everything else trails by quite a lot.* One of the previous favorites, “cell-based,” is preferred by just one company.
“It seems pretty clear to us that cultivated meat is the best option, for the reasons spelled out by GFI, and we’re glad to see what looks like a growing consensus,” said Eat Just CEO Josh Tetrick. “It would be great if we could get as many of us rallying around one term as possible, and we think that term should be cultivated.”
“Cultivated meat is a bit friendlier, foodier, translates into some of our key European languages, and signals a bit more of the caring / precarious process needed to keep cells happy,” explained Tim van de Rijdt, Chief Business Officer at Mosa Meat and President of Cellular Agriculture Europe. “Thus far, it’s also been the preferred modifier among the 13 members of Cellular Agriculture Europe.”
“We agree that cultivated meat is the way to go, and aligning as a sector will help us all be more effective,”Aleph Farms CEO Didier Toubia said.“Based on the research we’ve performed, cultivated will fulfill the requirements for differentiating the product and appealing to consumers.”
Dr. Valeti continued, “I support cultivated as a consumer-facing term. It creates a distinct category around which everyone can unify globally with consumer education.”
Top investors in the space, from Stray Dog Capital to Unovis VC to Agronomics to Synthesis Capital and more also prefer “cultivated.” Synthesis Capital co-founder Rosie Wardle explained, “We have been using cultivated for the past few years consistently, and we find that it immediately resonates with people. In our opinion, cultivated meat has become the consensus nomenclature among investors.”
So too McKinsey, UC Davis’ Cultivated Meat Modeling Consortium, Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy (and Bill in his new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster), and Alt-Meat, the unofficial chronicler of all things alternative meat (Alt-Meat was founded by the meat industry journalists who run MeatingPlace Magazine). And (of course) GFI — with more than 135 full time staff across our U.S. and affiliate organizations in India, Israel, Brazil, APAC, and Europe.
So why “cultivated”?
As Eat Just’s Tetrick said, “cultivated meat is the best option.”
In addition to the fact that it translates best into key European languages, as noted by Tim van de Rijdt from Cellular Agriculture Europe, it’s also the documented best term for consumer acceptance, which is critically important this early in the life of a new industry.
The two most widely cited studies of nomenclature have been the work that UPSIDE and GFI conducted with Mattson and a seafood study from Rutgers that was funded by BlueNalu. Both studies found that “cultivated” outperformed “cultured” and “cell-based” across consumer appeal metrics. In the Mattson focus groups, nearly every participant responded positively to “cultivated,” and the plurality selected it as their top choice. Focus group associations for “cultivated” included farming, naturalness, and caring.
The Rutgers study found that “cultivated seafood” outperformed “cultured,” “cell-based,” and “cell-cultured” across positivity, nutrition, imagined taste, likelihood to purchase, and naturalness. On the other hand, “cell-based” and “cell-cultured” performed better for differentiation from conventional seafood. “Cell-based” and “cell-cultured” were also more likely to be seen as the product of genetic engineering. So if your goal is to say as loudly as possible, “This is different from what you are used to eating,” you may prefer “cell-based” or “cell-cultured” over “cultivated seafood.”
Similarly, the Mattson focus group found that “cell-based” was the most associated with science. (“I don’t want to eat a science project,” said one participant.) But the real fatal flaw of “cell-based,” in our view, is that it doesn’t actually differentiate: Conventional meat is also cell-based.
And what about “cultured meat,” the term that’s been in use the longest of the three? “Cultured” does almost as well with consumers as “cultivated,” though it does conjure up the image of a petri dish for some people (which is why Mattson Chief Innovation and Marketing Officer Barb Stuckey wanted to find a new name in the first place). In the Mattson focus group, her concerns were corroborated, with multiple participants noting that “cultured” conjured up labs and hospitals and others saying it sounds aged or old.
More critically, though, cultured already has a meaning in food—consumers could easily get confused and think “cultured” meat is salted, aged, or subjected to some other culturing practice. As USDA noted explicitly in its request for public comments on naming, there are already “other types of foods where the term ‘culture’ or ‘cultured’ is used (such as ‘cultured celery powder’).”
“If we, as an industry, want to help people understand what we do, it’s essential that we are clear ourselves—and this starts with using consistent terminology,” said Jess Krieger, founder and CEO of Ohayo Valley.“‘Cultivated meat’ conjures images of agriculture and natural processes, is biologically correct, and isn’t used by any major food type—it’s a great name for us to stand behind as an industry.”
Care for some cultivated meat, friends? Bon Appétit!
Learn more about GFI’s cultivated meat nomenclature project here.
Cultivated meat nomenclature project
We developed a set of science-forward, evidence-based communication tools, rooted in familiar language, to help explain meat cultivation to non-technical audiences.
* Because four companies expressed preference for more than one term, we had 49 total responses across 44 companies.
Header image courtesy of Upside Foods