Raising livestock is a resource-intensive endeavor. A simple quarter-pound hamburger patty requires 6.7 pounds of grain, 52.8 gallons of water, and 74.5 square feet of land
. Global demand for meat products had a significant increase in the past decade with the rise in incomes in developing countries. The incorporation of meat substitutes are a key component to alleviating the environmental impacts associated with raising livestock while providing protein to a growing global population.
A team of researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands conducted a study of consumer preference and acceptance of meat substitutes with consideration of long-term exposure effects in varied in-home meals. The study, published in Food Quality and Preference
, included 89 participants who were divided into three groups, two of which were given commercially available meat substitutes (tofu and a product called “Quorn,” which is made of protein from fungi) and one given chicken over the course of ten weeks. Participants were required to eat their product two times per week and were allowed to prepare these meals according to their preferences, with limitations on spiciness to better capture the how much consumers liked or became bored of the products through regular exposures.
Questionnaires submitted by participants revealed higher preferences for chicken than tofu and Quorn at the beginning of the trial, but all three products were liked less by the end of the trial. At the conclusion of the trial, consumers ranked chicken the lowest, while tofu gained in preference over the ten-week period. The researchers found that prior experience with meat substitutes and the number of different meals made by the study participants had the greatest influence on acceptance of these products.
The results of this study can be used to develop strategies for popularizing the consumption of meat substitutes, which may increase environmental sustainability by decreasing land and water used in growing feed and pasture for livestock. Meals containing either one of the three test products were enjoyed equally in the study, which contrasts to product ratings where chicken was preferred over the meat substitutes. Thus, the preferences for meat substitutes seems to be more related to the novelty of the product – that is, many people have not tried it or have a bias based on previous experience. The authors note that efforts to transition to meat substitutes should focus on establishing positive initial product experiences to increase consumers’ “willingness to try.” Positive first-time experiences may have significant impacts on long-term acceptance of environmentally sustainable non-animal protein products.