The slow road to retail: How consumers are dictating cultivated meat’s strategy

In June, cultivated meat was officially ok’d to enter the U.S. market after the USDA granted regulatory approval to Upside Foods and Eat Just’s Good Meat. It was a milestone moment for the industry. But for consumers interested in trying out the much-talked about product, most were out of luck. 

Both companies’ cultivated meat products are only available in the food service arena — Upside’s cultivated chicken at Bar Crenn in San Francisco, and Good Meat chicken at one of José Andrés’s restaurants in Washington. 

Not only does a taste test require travel, but the dishes come at a pretty penny as well for consumers. 

San Francisco’s Michelin-starred Bar Crenn is offering an Upside Foods experience for $150 a person, but you ‘ll have to be added to the queue on a waitlist for a reservation. The upscale restaurant is “proud to be the only restaurant in the world,” to serve the dish, they said. 

In the nation’s capital, consumers at China Chilcano can try Good Meat’s cultivated chicken for $70 a pop as part of the Michelin-starred chef’s tasting menu, but the restaurant can only produce a handful of plates each week because it must be made in small batches. 

There are no more regulatory hurdles in order for these cultivated meat items to land on grocery store shelves, attorneys Brian Sylvester and Tommy Tobin of Perkins Coie told Food Dive in an interview. But despite this, neither company is in a hurry to get there products in a grocery store.

In fact, Upside Foods COO Amy Chen told Food Dive in an interview that the cultivated meat maker was still “five to ten years out,” from being on grocery shelves.

The consumer mindset

Consumers shop the frozen aisle of their local grocer much differently from how they search a menu. In fact, sometimes consumers won’t eat a product at home but will eat it out at a restaurant. 

“From a consumer perspective, we’ve got work to do to educate consumers and get them on board with what cultivated meat is, now that they can try it and put it in their mouths,” said Chen. 

The strategy to allow consumers to taste the product exclusively through the hands of a Michellin starred chef like Dominique Crenn was no accident. 

“When you think about the frame of mind of a consumer when they go into a restaurant, they’re more open to innovation. They’re excited to try new things. They know that a professional chef is going to prepare something that’s going to be delicious, and that’s an exciting proposition for consumers to experience cultivated meat for the first time,” said Chen. 

According to Sylvester and Tobin, among the biggest challenges facing the cultivated meat category is consumer education. Given the expensive and exclusive nature of restaurants like Bar Crenn and China Chilcano, Upside Foods and Eat Just are far away from getting the general public on board with their products.

“Anybody who has worked in the food business for as long as I have, has seen a lot of different marketing tactics to make a consumer feel guilty about the foods they do enjoy. But solving the problems of food supply chains is really up to the food companies,”  Nicole Johnson Hoffman, board member at alternative protein maker Meati Foods told Food Dive in an interview. 

Johnson Hoffman has over two decades of experience in the food and agriculture industry, mostly in the animal protein business at Cargill

“One thing that’s interesting is that these CEOs are promising a ‘magical experience’, and so I want to know if the dish stands up to that,” said Soleil Ho, restautant critic at the San Francisco Chronicle on the Fifth & Mission podcast. The critic admitted that the dish did have an unpleasant toughness to it.

Two things can happen — people try the product out of curiousity, and then never agian, or, people become repeat consumers once the cost comes down.  

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