Archive for June, 2011

Musings: Test Tube Burgers– How will they ever market that?
June 6, 2011

I can’t seem to get this story out of my head. Recently NPR’s Terry Gross spoke with science writer Michael Specter about something that’s been going on in labs around the world. Some of those brilliant tissue scientists responsible for growing artificial organs (like bladders) have directed similar efforts toward creating “meat” in the lab. Using stem cell technology they have been able to grow animal muscle in the Petri dish. Pretty amazing stuff! And there’s plenty of reasons why this is potentially a likely good idea to pursue.

• Some climatologists see diminishing water supplies and droughts in many parts of the world beginning to threaten food supplies.
• Globally, livestock are responsible for 20% of the greenhouse gases according to the United Nation’s Food & Agriculture organization.
• Animal welfare activists are increasingly concerned about animals force-fed grain laced with antibiotics and living in cruelly cramped quarters as they fatten up before being taken to the slaughterhouse.
• Additionally, the growth of a middle class in the world’s poorer countries leads to a greater effective desire for diets richer in protein.

If these dire predictors are correct, perhaps it makes good sense to leverage expertise against growing food in the lab in instead of taking up precious water and land resources.

Mr. Specter expects to see test tube burgers available in the market within the next few years–at first very costly, and then priced for the masses–echoing our experience of the cost decreases of other technological innovations.

As a marketer and market researcher this all gets me wondering…how will companies market the stuff? How will they turn the obvious “yuk factor” into something with a palate pleasing expectation? Oh sure, food scientists do some miraculous taste and textural things with soy these days…but will a public ever embrace a burger made in a vat? Or a “Petri Patty?” And what about other types of in vitro meat like chicken and pork?

I can just imagine the intriguing conversations we might have in the focus room as we explore the most appealing language and ways to advertise the first test-tube burger.

But then again, perhaps consumers 5 to 10 years from now won’t find this so strange at all–but rather just another of the accustomed chain of advances.

Are test tube burgers that much more difficult to embrace than frozen prepared meals once were…or fast food? Or microwave cooking? With many people already so removed from a notion of an original food source like a real, live animal, or a home grown fresh tomato, perhaps that first test tube burger will seem like “natural” after all!

Laurie Tema-Lyn,

Practical Imagination Enterprises