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  • Writer's pictureDoug Grant

Consumer Acceptance of Cultivated Seafood

The Iowa Farm Bureau conducted a survey of Iowa grocery consumers and concluded that “most Iowa grocery shoppers do not plan to purchase cell or plant-based imitation meat and instead are likely to choose the flavor and nutritional benefits of real meat. Only 21% of Iowa grocery shoppers are even somewhat likely to purchase lab-grown imitation meat...”

As they drafted up the results, I imagine they saw this as a dagger to the heart of the burgeoning cultivated meat industry. After all, 4 of 5 Iowan consumers are not considering our industry’s vision of the future of protein. But quite the opposite, maybe we should consider launching Atlantic Fish Co. cultivated seafood in Des Moines instead of DC and Raleigh.

Why should anyone be so excited about 20%? Because, if accurate, cellular agriculture has jumped the chasm in Iowa of “early market” in the technology adoption lifecycle. There are already enough consumers who consider themselves the innovators and early adopters of cultivated meat to spearhead the industry into the mainstream market. In Iowa, 1 in 5 consumers are interested, and the products aren’t even on the market there yet. Also, consider that’s after being bludgeoned by the incumbent industry's effort to make cultivated meat as unappealing as possible. This is a dream for our industry.

The technology adoption lifecycle is a framework to understand who starts using novel technologies and when. At the onset, you have the Innovators, the fearless few who'll camp out to be the first to snag the latest gadget or food trend, guided by intuition rather than mass approval. Then, the Early Adopters enter, slightly more pragmatic but still driven by novelty and the allure of being ahead of the curve. By the time the Early Majority jumps on board, the product is practically mainstream, it has been vetted, reviewed, and is well known. Afterward, we have the Late Majority, the skeptical crowd who's waiting for the kinks to be worked out and prices to drop, often loyal to their older devices (or in our case, fish). And finally, the Laggards—those who are either averse to change or simply unaware, joining the party when everyone else is gearing up for the next big thing. Understanding this lifecycle is not just strategic—it's survival. The Iowa Farm Bureau seems to have missed this, planting a bullseye on their state and asking cultivated meat and seafood companies to launch their products there.

We don’t have to make the first cultivated products for everyone, we have to segment the market for the innovators and early adopters of food. AFC, and the rest of our industry, are just beginning to craft the narrative about why and how we’re making better food for these consumers.

We have to remind each other (as our team does regularly) that we are not a biotech company making food. We’re a food company using biotechnology. Nobody wants to eat a cell line or hear about the doubling rate. Consumers want it to taste great, be affordable, and be healthy. We have a higher bar than other food companies because we’re doing something new, so we need to be overly transparent. But we have a great story to tell about amazing foods we will bring to the table that are delicious, nutritious, and safe.

Consumers have never had the option of ordering “slaughter-free” meat or seafood. I envision a restaurant in the near future, perhaps in Des Moines, where the server tells a table of five they have the option of slaughter-free fish on the menu, locally grown of course. This fish also has no antibiotics, mercury, or microplastics. Oh, and it’s the most sustainable seafood on earth. Alternatively, they can have the usual offering, a likely mislabeled mystery fish that was imported weeks ago.

The table looks at each other, nervously waiting for someone to order first. One brave soul says, “I’ll have the cultivated seabass” (she’s our 20% innovator/early adopter group), and then the rest of the table goes along, all trying out the cultivated seafood. Except for that one guy, the laggard. Can’t win them all.

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