Studies & Numbers

Multiethnic Asian Survey Reveals Consumer Preference for Plant-Based Proteins Over Cultivated Meat and Insect-Based Products

A unique multiethnic Asian population survey supported by the Singapore Ministry of Education Academic Fund Tier 1, exploring consumer acceptance of alternative proteins, shows that participants are most willing to consume plant-based meat, over cultivated meat and insect-based products.

Conducted among 1,224 adult Singaporean citizens — 75% Chinese, 15% Indian, and 10% Malay participants — the research delves into the drivers and barriers to consuming alternative protein foods to shed light on ways to promote more sustainable diets.

Through an online survey, researchers identified various factors influencing alternative protein food consumption, including familiarity and acceptance, attitudinal factors such as food neophobia, drug residue concerns, zoonotic diseases,  food curiosity, “unnaturalness,” and distrust in gene technology, and lastly, willingness to pay for these alternatives.

OmniFoods group shot
©OmniFoods

Plant-based leads the way

The survey found that approximately half of the participants were familiar with plant-based meat alternatives, while fewer were aware of cultivated meat (26%) and insect-based products (17%).

Overall, there was a stronger inclination toward plant-based meat alternatives (29% willing to consume), with cultivated meat (25%), and insect-based products (7.2%) trailing in consumer interest, highlighting a clear preference pattern among the different protein alternatives, says the report.

The study also found that Malay participants, predominantly Muslims, showed a lower willingness to try any of the three types of alternative proteins compared to their Chinese and Indian counterparts. According to the authors, this is probably due to the unclear Halal status of products, which highlights the importance of communications and labeling.

For participants familiar with alt protein foods, curiosity (40–54 %) was the most important reason to consume the products. Environmental motivation was the second most important reason cited by participants for consuming plant-based meat (36%) but not for cultured meat (9%), and insect-based products (12%).

Conversely, the research found that the predominant reason for not consuming alternative protein was that the participants had not seen these products in grocery stores or had never heard of them (34% to 55%).

Meanwhile, the perception of being ‘too processed‘ was the second most cited deterrent (24–30%) for consuming plant-based meat and cultured meat. For insect-based products, the second major deterrent was the perception of being ‘disgusting,’ noted by 45% of respondents.

Hen running on grass
© stevew_photo-stock.adobe.com

Attitudes toward production

Looking at the attitudes toward food production, the survey found that 69% of the participants expressed curiosity about their food sources, while 53% voiced concerns about animal welfare. Additionally, 41% were apprehensive about the risk of zoonotic diseases, and 16% worried about drug residues in animal products. 

Regarding negative perceptions, the survey found that 19% of the respondents demonstrated a higher level of reluctance towards new foods, known as food neophobia. About 10% viewed alternative protein foods as unnatural, and 8.5% showed skepticism toward genetic technology.
When comparing alternative protein foods, the researchers found different concerns for each alt-protein category. For example, participants concerned about zoonotic diseases were motivated to consume plant-based meat regularly, but it was not a reason to consume cultivated and insect-based products.  

The study found that the lower consumption intent for cultivated meat was related to distrust of science and gene technology, while food neophobia and animal welfare concerns affected participants’ interest in insect-based products.

Woman with taped mouth and different products in kitchen.
© Pixel-Shot – stock.adobe.com

The barrier for alt proteins

The perception of alternative protein foods as unnatural emerged as the strongest barrier to consumption in all categories. “In line with a recent study, individuals often associate perceived naturalness of a food with its healthiness,” say the authors.

Through comparative analysis, the researchers found that the “unnaturalness” perception was greatest for cultivated meat, followed by insect-based products, and plant-based meat alternatives.

Among the surveyed, females and Malays were more likely to perceive alternative protein products as unnatural. The authors say that addressing these perceptions through education and transparent communication could help improve acceptance.

Regarding purchase intent, individuals with higher education levels showed less willingness to consume insect-based products and to pay a higher price for alternative protein foods. Only consumers expressing concerns over drug residues in meat and meat products were more willing to pay a higher price for alternative protein products. The researchers highlight that these results differ from previous studies that have shown the contrary.

“In conclusion, plant-based meat alternatives [were] preferred over cultured meat and insect-based products in this multiethnic Asian population. These findings suggest that differential strategies may be needed to promote acceptance of different meat alternatives,” reads the paper.

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