Between December 2021 and January 2022, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has been putting together the findings of an online survey investigating consumer awareness and perceptions of alternative, or novel, sources of protein.
Conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the government agency, the survey recruited 1,930 adults aged 16-75 living in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
The survey largely focused on three different food categories: cultivated meat, edible insects, and plant-based proteins.
Cultivated meat in focus
According to the findings, one-third of UK consumers said they were willing to try cell-based meat.
Awareness of the product appeared to be high, with 78% of respondents having heard of cultivated meat alternatives. And amongst the reasons consumers were willing to try lab-grown meat, environmental sustainability (40%) was the most common.
While some reported they would be unwilling to try cultivated meat, over a quarter said they could be persuaded if they knew it was safe. And just under a quarter (23%) said they could be persuaded if they could trust that it was properly regulated.
Edible insects on the menu
Participants were also asked whether they would be willing to try edible insects, with one-quarter saying they would.
Awareness of edible insects was ever so slightly higher (80%) than for cultivated meat (78%), and again, environmental sustainability was the most common reason for being willing to try them.
Participants were also asked how willing or unwilling they would be to try edible insects in different forms. Whole edible insects were least favoured. But when edible insects were ground into food for added protein, and incorporated into food products such as bread, burgers, or falafel balls, nearly two in five (37%) said they would give them a go.
While similarly with cultivated meat, some respondents were clearly unwilling to try edible insects – with the majority (67%) reporting nothing could be done to make them try them – one in eight (13%) said they could be persuaded if they knew it was safe to eat.
A total of 11% said they might change their mind if they looked appetising.
Food safety perceptions
The survey suggested that respondents were not only more likely to have heard of plant-based proteins (90%) compared to cell-based meat and edible insects, but they also perceived plant-based proteins to be safer.
More than three-quarters (77%) said they consider plant-based proteins to be safe to eat, compared to 50% for edible insects and 30% for lab-grown meat.
“This important survey highlights that, while many consumers are considering trying alternative proteins, they will quite rightly only do so if they are confident that these products are safe and properly regulated,” said FSA Chief Scientific Adviser Prof Robin May.
“Consequently, we are working closely with businesses and trade bodies to ensure they make effective use of the FSA’s existing regulatory framework so that consumers can benefit from innovative food products whilst still having full confidence in their safety.”