BruceF

president & founder @ The Good Food Institute
159 karmaJoined Working (15+ years)
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Bio

founder & president of the Good Food Institute, a global network of nonprofit organizations, with roughly 200 full-time team members across affiliates in the U.S., India, Israel, Brazil, Singapore, and Europe (UK & EU). 

GFI works on alternative protein policy, science, and corporate engagement - to accelerate the production of plant-based and cultivated meat in order to bolster the global protein supply while protecting our environment, promoting global health, and preventing food insecurity. 

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this is a very helpful post - thank you! I just wanted to make sure you've seen that that Bezos Earth Fund's $100 million AI grand challenge includes alternative proteins as one of three focus areas. 

See here for details: https://www.bezosearthfund.org/news-and-insights/bezos-earth-fund-announces-100-million-ai-solutions-climate-change-nature-loss 

Thanks for clarifying w/r/t strong form PTC theory - that’s helpful. I think it makes sense to focus on taste, price, and nutrition as the three factors that are absolutely necessary for success; we can address other factors later (or let private companies address those other factors later). Sorry that caused you some confusion, though I think you took an untenable leap with your assumptions. 

W/r/t “many times the penetration” and “huge, huge dent,” I think that will depend a lot on what happens between now and reaching price/taste/nutrition parity. But the numbers in your hypothetical discrete choice experiments are extremely promising (for the reasons already discussed). Surveys w/r/t cultivated meat are equally promising - and as discussed, this is all in a world where the products don’t yet exist and many/most consumers are dubious that they’re even possible (i.e., survey respondents don’t think taste and price parity are possible, so they simply reject the premise - and still acceptance numbers are extremely high). 

W/r/t your four critiques of the early studies:

For anyone who doesn’t remember what the four critiques are, here you go:

  1. These studies generally don’t find PTC to be the top three factors in determining food choice.
  2. The rankings in these studies reflect what people perceive as the most important factors rather than what would actually cause them to change their diets.
  3. The cited studies were designed primarily to investigate the role of a few particular factors in food choice rather than to identify the most important factors. 
  4. These studies analyze the average ranking of each factor rather than how individual consumers rank the factors.)

On the first point, the studies mostly find price and taste to be most important. That said, even if all four critiques are totally accurate, that just indicates subpar study design and doesn’t mean that the conclusions are wrong. We spent the rest of our back-and-forth discussing other studies and evidence, all of which point (IMO) to the importance of taste and price to food choice. 

As our subsequent back-and-forth indicates, there’s overwhelming additional evidence that taste and price are critical aspects of consumer food choice - both generally and specifically w/r/t alternative meats. For example, your chosen examples (the ten hypothetical discrete choice experiments, three commercial case studies, and the Malan 2022 field experiment) all indicate the critical importance of taste and price to food choice, as discussed in my first response to your article. 

On your final point: While I don’t think we’re going to decrease meat consumption globally unless alternative proteins succeed, that doesn’t mean that nothing else is important. A few reasons why:

  • First, my view that we need taste/price/nutrition-competitive products in order to decrease meat consumption globally doesn’t mean we need only those things (this was a big part of our back-and-forth, of course). 
  • Second, we don’t know if alt meats can reach taste & price parity (we’re optimistic, but no one has ever done it). Efforts that cut consumption are valuable, even if they won’t scale.
  • Third, it’s education about the harms of industrial animal agriculture that motivated most people who are currently leading the charge on alt proteins, farm animal welfare, and more; there are significant and valuable outcomes beyond a global decrease in meat consumption. 
  • Fourth, the best (I think) way we convince the early adopters to consume the current products is by making the nutrition case for alt proteins (i.e., education). 

I could keep going, but you get the idea - saying “we need to reach taste and price parity to decrease industrial meat consumption” is not the same as saying “taste and price parity are the only things worth working on.” 

Thanks Jacob - nice of you to give me the last word; I hope I didn’t abuse that privilege. 

Thanks for your response, Jacob - 

Here’s my/GFI’s principal thesis on this topic: 

Taste and price are essential to the success of plant-based and cultivated meat, and it’s going to be very hard to reach taste and price parity for either product. So we think it makes sense to focus on those two factors. But that doesn’t mean that once we’ve solved those two factors, we’re done.

As noted in a previous post, we have added nutrition as a third critical factor, mostly in the face of negative messaging around ultra processing and the critical role of early adopters (i.e. people who will sacrifice on taste, price, or both - but only if they see nutrition benefits). See, e.g., gfi.org/nutrition. 

The two quotes you add from me are not (I don’t think) different from what I said in my previous post, and they don’t discuss (let alone defend) “strong form PTC” theory. These are examples of me focusing on the things I think are most critical; strong PTC does not come up, and I don't defend it.

In the first case, “even if you think that is not sufficient, I would contend that that is absolutely necessary if we're going to change the massive [upward] trajectory through 2050” - this is GFI’s view, and it’s quite different from strong PTC theory.

And in the second case, since we’re at 1% plant-based meat right now and 0% cultivated meat, my statements that “we can have many times the penetration that we have right now if we can get to price and taste parity” and “if you can get to price and taste parity, you can make a huge, huge dent”: 1) don’t mean that nothing else is required; and also 2) don’t mean that we magically reach 50%+.

Aside: It feels curious to me that you continue to claim I believe something that I am telling you explicitly that I don’t believe; you are essentially saying “you believe this and you’re wrong,” and I’m saying “I agree that’s wrong, and I don’t believe it.” This feels very odd, since we do have a few actual disagreements that feel important. Specifically:

We still appear to have sufficient disagreement w/r/t the importance of price & taste competitive alt meats to our shared desire to see industrial meat production levels fall - I continue to think that alt proteins offer our only real hope of that happening globally, and so I’ll be curious to learn what your alternatives are and why you see them as viable.

With regard to your four specific critiques: I think the overwhelming evidence of the importance of taste and price (including in the three sections from your paper) are a strong response to specific critiques about specific studies. i.e., the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence indicates the importance of taste and price to food choice. 

Finally and perhaps most importantly, IMO: I’ll be extremely interested to read what you think might decrease industrial animal agriculture globally, how big you think that difference could be (and why), and how you see that theory working in, e.g., developing economies where growth in meat consumption will be greatest over the next few decades. 

While I’m certainly enthused about the value of “defaults, labeling, classroom education, shifting social norms, and non-analog plant-based options,” two things: 1) those are the strategies of the past 50+ years; they work to a point and are absolutely worthwhile (they’re why I’m doing this work, e.g.), but they have not (so far) even decreased per capita meat consumption in the U.S.; and 2) I’m not sure how they scale. One especially promising aspect of alt proteins (IMO) is that science anywhere can result in more competitive products everywhere (same as solar/wind energy, electric vehicles, etc.). 

In the end, I think we need a both/and approach, but I think that alt proteins are the only approach that has a shot at slashing the global consumption of industrial animal meat.

I’ve now read through all the comments, and I find the discussion super-useful, so thanks for prompting it, Jacob. 

Here are five points from me - apologies in advance for the length here. 

First: I think our main disagreement is over how important taste and price are to food choices. 

We agree with your thesis (that strong-form PTC is not defensible), though we also agree with the multiple commenters who suggest that you’re arguing against a view that almost no one holds. 

I’ll start my response by just reiterating our view that taste and price are critical to food choice, both generally (cite) and with regard to plant-based meat specifically (cite). That is, we don’t see a way to convince consumers to stop eating animal products unless we give them something that tastes at least as good and that is competitively priced.

Second: I don’t think you offer convincing evidence to the contrary. 

In attempting to cast doubt on the importance of taste and price to food choice, you discuss: 1) ten discrete choice experiments; 2) three commercial case studies; and 3) the Malan 2022 field experiment. I think that the discrete choice experiments indicate the opposite of what you suggest, and so too the three commercial case studies and Malan field trial, once more information is added to the analysis. 

The ten hypothetical discrete choice experiments (HDCE): In these experiments, consumers said they would prefer plant-based (or in a few cases cultivated) meat over conventional meat at rates of 11% 19%, 27%, 25%, 22%, 41%, 45%, 51%, 63%, and 66% percent. These displacement numbers strike me as quite remarkable for a product that does not exist, in a world where (as you rightly note), people really like meat. And we get these very impressive numbers even though consumers were dubious about the question’s premise (plant-based meat at taste parity); as you note, the one time the premise was tested, “only 8% of respondents believed all the burgers would taste the same.” 

As an illustration of why there may be such variance: The 11% number comes from a Swedish study that called the comparator “plant-based meat-like burgers" that are “very meat-like” (“meat-like” is not the same as taste parity, and still 11% said they would switch). You note that another Swedish study found 45% - I’m guessing the framing was better on that one.

You conclude: “In summary, the results of HDCEs conflict with the hypothesis that consumers largely prefer PTC-competitive plant-based meats over animal-based meat.” 

I’ve never seen anyone defend that hypothesis (that consumers largely prefer PTC-competitive plant-based meat over animal-based meat), but to me, these studies prove - rather than disprove - the importance of taste and price to consumer choice. There is no incentive for consumers to believe that plant-based meat will actually taste good (the one study that asked that question found that they don’t believe it) and no incentive for consumers to claim they’re excited about plant-based meat. And yet we still get extremely impressive hypothetical displacement numbers.

The three commercial case studies: You look at Ikea hot dogs, Umami’s launch of the Impossible Burger, and Burger King’s Impossible Whopper. Your assessment is that these case studies “suggest that most consumers do not prefer plant-based meats, even for relatively PTC-competitive products.” 

I don’t know if the Ikea hot dog competes on taste, but here’s why I’m dubious: A recent (this year) Food System Innovations taste test of the most common plant-based hot dogs didn’t find anything that compared to conventional hot dogs (nothing even came close - consumers really disliked all the plant-based hot dogs). If none of the current commercial products come anywhere near competing on taste, I doubt the Ikea hot dog does (would be delighted to be wrong, obviously); I imagine it's eaten by vegetarians, almost exclusively.

I don’t think the Burger King or Umami Burgers prove your point either: You describe the difference in price between the Whopper and Impossible Whopper as “slight,” but I disagree: When these results were compiled, the Impossible Whopper cost 43% more than the regular Whopper: $4.19 v $5.99. That’s a pretty massive premium for a fast food burger, it seems to me; regardless, it’s definitely not close to price parity. At my local BK, the current numbers are $5.69 v $6.69, so still at 17% premium. 

You also don’t mention price w/r/t Umami, despite the fact that the sentence immediately following your discussion implies price parity. In fact, when that Umami survey was done, the Impossible burger cost 37% more ($7.99 v. $10.99). Today, it’s 16% more; you can still get a double burger or a deluxe burger for less and a truffle or bacon ranch burger for the same price. It doesn’t seem reasonable to me to suggest that a product that costs 37% more has anything to say about how a product would do at price parity. 

Far from contesting the PTC hypothesis, I’d suggest that sales of 15% (Burger King) and 20% (Umami) are pretty great. Regardless, nothing about these three examples appears (to me) to cast doubt on the importance of taste and price parity to maximum plant-based meat displacement.

The Malan 2022 field experiment: Of course, we agree that taste and price parity, without more, are not enough for the kind of displacement we’re aiming for. The products need to be familiar, consumers need education about the healthfulness of the products, the products will have to be heavily marketed, and so on - none of that has happened much (if at all) in the Malan study.

Most fundamentally, as Jack_S notes: “Familiarity in itself could go a long way to explaining the negative results in all the studies you refer to: all are comparing an unfamiliar product with a familiar product.” That seems right: As MichaelStJules notes w/r/t the Malan study: “In the UCLA study, unfamiliarity was also one of the main reasons (39%) for not even trying the Impossible option (table 23 in Malan's PhD thesis).” It was actually the top reason. 

An important step that I think is missing from your analysis is looking at why consumers skipped the Impossible ground beef or only tried it once: In short, the students who only tried it once or didn’t try it at all (more than half didn’t try it at all) don’t think it competes on taste. BradWest notes that “Probably if you were to survey the steak burrito eaters, they would say they got it because it tastes better.”

Those data actually are in the paper, and that’s right: First, of people who tried but didn't like the Impossible ground beef, with open ended responses, taste parity was the reason (taste and texture: 53%; preparation: 10%) (table 28). And of the people who didn’t even try Impossible, just 11% thought it would be delicious, corroborating BradWest’s intuition (even as 59% thought it would be healthy and 82% thought it would be good for the climate). 

In short, I don’t think your interpretation of Malan, that it “demonstrates that only a small share of consumers might prefer PTC-competitive plant-based meat,” is correct. In my view, once key data from the study with regard to taste parity is provided, Malan strongly indicates the critical importance of taste w/r/t the success of plant-based meat. 

Third: The animal, environmental, and global health communities have been trying to convince the world to eat less meat for at least 50 years, and meat consumption continues to rise. 

The book that turned me vegan 36 years ago is now more than 50 years old (here). And in that time, even per capita meat consumption has skyrocketed, with no signs of letting up (cite). Even in the United States, the five highest years for per capita meat consumption are the most recent five (cite). We need a solution that can scale globally, and we have not heard of anything that seems likely to work, other than price and taste competitive alternative proteins.

We like the analogy to renewable energy and electric vehicles (EVs): Renewables give consumers what they want w/r/t energy consumption, EVs give consumers what they want w/r/t personal transport, and alt proteins need to give consumers what they want from animal products. W/r/t animal products, if we can make something that is indistinguishable to consumers and that costs less, then over time (perhaps fairly quickly, especially with cultivated meat), we can replace the harmful products with products that cause far less harm (this is not all that's required, but this is required). 

While campaigns focused on energy efficiency, walkable cities and public transportation, and reduced meat consumption are valuable, we are unlikely to convince a majority of consumers almost anywhere (let alone globally) to consume less energy, drive less, or eat less meat. Just as we need to change how energy is produced and vehicles are powered, so too we need to change how animal products are made. 

That said, of course we still need to do more - none of this happens magically. And that means:

  • touting the health benefits of plant based meat (e.g., here)
  • addressing concerns around the healthfulness and safety of cultivated meat (e.g., here)
  • contextualizing alt proteins alongside renewables and EVs in terms of need for government support (e.g., here and here and here)
  • thinking a lot about framing. For example, making clear that alt proteins support consumer choice and jobs in the heartland, stressing the economic value of these industries, and so on (see, e.g., this report that GFI & FSI sponsored from the Center for Strategic & International Studies, this paper we co-authored with the Breakthrough Institute, and our principal lobby leave-behind - the most prominent quote is from Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary). 

While these and many other factors will determine how many consumers shift away from industrial animal products, none of these factors works without price and taste competitive products. To get there, we need a lot more science and a lot more government support, so that’s where we focus. 

In the Sentient Media interview, the reporter indicates that your solution to skyrocketing meat demand is to “integrate natural plant-based foods — based on whole proteins like lentils, nuts and soy — into the larger food landscape.” Is that right? If so, I’m curious about your support for this strategy: Is this different in some way from what has been tried over the past fifty years (and then some), even as meat demand has skyrocketed? Is there some new angle of this strategy that you’re excited about? And how do you see that scaling?

TBC, I’m a huge fan of diet-focused advocacy - it’s similar to encouraging people to insulate their houses for energy efficiency (and passing tax incentives to make that more appealing), convincing cities to adopt “meatless Mondays,” campaigns on behalf of bike commuting, and so on - all of these things are great (we should do them!), but two key points: 1) if they work, they pay relatively small (compared to what's needed) dividends in terms of decreased energy use, miles driven, and meat consumed - they will not reach large displacement numbers; and 2) they don’t scale: They have to be adopted and implemented over and over and over and over (city-by-city or, at beast, country-by-country).

But similarly to the theory of change of renewables and EVs, with alt proteins, if we can produce meat from plants and cultivation, this can just become how meat is made into the future (not implying it happens by magic, of course!). As with cost-competitive renewable energy, progress in one area of the world can scale globally (this is why GFI operates in Singapore and Israel - world class scientific institutions and governments that fund science). 

In the Fall 2022 Foreign Policy article that you cite, which I co-authored with Climate Advisers’ founder & CEO Nigel Purvis, we offer four key suggestions for such a global shift - but I don’t think any of those work for any intervention other than alt proteins. I’d be interested in hearing more from you on this.  

Fourth, I agree with Jackva that while of course meat is different from energy and cars, many of the differences work in favor of alt proteins, not against them. 

Jackva notes that “from what we know from other transitions, we know that reaching a state close to PTC explains a lot of the variance in adoption so it seems reasonable as a best-guess prior that this will be the case for the animal protein transition as well,” and he offers a strong case for this thesis. 

He also notes that while the analogy is not perfect, there are ways in which alt proteins will compare favorably w/r/t ease of replacement. For example, “alternative proteins are a better meat replacement than renewables are replacements for coal (no equivalent to intermittency), the food industry is smaller and less powerful than the energy industry, changing protein sourcing is easier than changes in the energy system that require more infrastructure, etc.” 

There are many additional examples to support his point, but I’d like to just note two of them: 

  • First, we have the two largest food companies and top six meat companies (and others) supporting and investing in alternative proteins - they don’t own the farms, and if they can make more money from plant-based and cultivated meat, why wouldn’t they? A few months ago, I was in Brazil, and the Rebel Whopper at Burger King is produced by Brazil’s second largest meat company (top 6 in the world) - and it’s quite good. Tyson Foods has a very good plant-based chicken nugget (available at Target stores nationwide). And on and on.
  • Second and perhaps just as crucial, I think there is strong evidence that many, many people eat meat despite how it’s produced, not because of it (I think the numbers in your hypothetical discrete choice experiment discussion are also a strong indication of this). As I discuss on the 80,000 Hours podcast, I do think that if we can make plant-based and cultivated meat that compete on price and taste, that will make the advocacy work a heck of a lot easier - but advocacy (or at least robust marketing) will still be required, as I think is clear from that podcast and everywhere else I’ve discussed this issue in any depth. 

On this point (people eating meat despite and not because of how it’s produced), see here from the Sentience Institute: 47% of consumers claim that they want to ban factory farms, and 45% claim they want to ban slaughterhouses. The basics of this survey were validated by Oklahoma State agricultural researchers. Obviously consumers wouldn’t actually vote that way; my point is just that this shows a strong visceral antipathy to the way meat is produced today (see, e.g., pages 4-6 of the OSU report). I wonder if there have ever been figures like that for banning gas-powered cars or fossil fuels. Very strong environmentalists hate gas-powered vehicles and fossil fuels, but I’d be surprised if that was anywhere near 45-47% of the general public - in the U.S. or anywhere.

Finally fifth: I'm not sure about your current thesis (the “strong-form” version of PTC). 

You define the thesis as: “if plant-based meat is competitive with animal-based meat on these three criteria, the large majority of current consumers would replace animal-based meat with plant-based meat.” Or, as Sentient Media quoted you for their article about your paper: “‘It’s just assumed, oh, you know, if only we had an identical thing that was different in key ways, everyone would just switch over,’ says Peacock, ‘when psychologically, I just don’t think that’s well supported.’”

When Jack_S reframed PTC theory as “the idea that if we achieve PTC-parity, the market will automatically shift” and stated, “I don't think anyone in the space holds this view strongly,” you replied, “I don't agree that no one holds this view. I'd refer to three lines of evidence.” The second and third lines of evidence were perception-based; only the first line of evidence involved examples of what you consider to be support for the strong-form PTC theory. 

In my opinion, these are very weak citations, and your inference based on them is not (I don’t think) tenable.

These are very weak citations, IMO: What you refer to as “the main source I cite” and call “pretty clear cut” is a podcast from April 2019 that is just 13 minutes long. It’s a general discussion of alt proteins and GFI - the host doesn’t ask about the strong form PTC theory, and it doesn’t seem reasonable to me to infer from my brief comments about the importance of taste and price that I think those are the only things that are important. 

What you refer to as your “other two main citations” are the 80,000 Hours podcast that also doesn’t discuss the PTC thesis and a 2019 GFI request for scientists to submit proposals to our grants program. 

In the 80,000 hours podcast from early 2018, I’m clear that lots and lots of people are basically addicted to animal meat: “no matter how good plant-based meat gets, our hypothesis is that there are a significant number of human beings who are going to want to eat real meat.” There’s also much in that interview that makes clear that I believe there will need to be marketing campaigns to take price and taste competitive products over the finish line and also that we’re going to need support from the major meat companies, and more.

The 2019 science RFP is no longer online, but as Jack_S notes, even just within the very short snippet you include, “even then it's not exclusively PTC, they also refer to these proteins winning out on perceptions of health and sustainability, and requiring product diversity.” 

In my opinion, if the strong form PTC thesis were widely held, you would be able to cite a position paper, article, blog, or something where the case is explicitly made (rather than two fairly old podcasts and a science RFP that’s no longer online). I suppose maybe citing a podcast could make sense, if the thesis were explicitly addressed. To indicate that it’s a widely held view, it seems to me that you’d want to be able to cite half a dozen either current (on line now) or at least fairly recent (not 4+ years old) and explicit examples.

I put this point last b/c I do think we have a disagreement that’s real, and I think you could pretty easily refocus your paper on real disagreements. Since I think most people reading your paper will be wondering what might decrease demand for industrial animal products, I could also imagine you spending at least a bit of time sharing what you think might decrease meat consumption. 

Thanks again for writing the piece and your engagement on the forum - I appreciate your commitment to this kind of analysis and also to robust discussion. 

Thanks very much, Jacob - I’m in Asia for work at the moment and in all-day meetings, so it’s going to take me a bit to get back to this, but I’m grateful to you for getting this conversation going. I skimmed the discussion but want to read that more thoroughly, too. I should be able to read all comments with intentionality and offer a few more thoughts this coming weekend, I expect/hope. 

[EDIT, Sunday night: I read through all comments this weekend, but it will be next weekend before I'm able to craft my thoughts into something intelligible and (I hope at least somewhat) concise; that said, I'm not sure I have much to add beyond what jacva & Jack_S (and I) have already written. I think the one thing that might be additive is just a bit more thinking about my (and GFI's) belief that if alt proteins fail, industrial animal meat consumption will rise inexorably and globally (+ more on the analogy to renewables & EVs) - anyway, see you back here next weekend, and sorry for my delay; I'm grateful for the exchange].

[Added point for clarity: In my response above, I was sharing our response to the three questions and 2 critiques that were sent from Sentient Media (SM). I thought those replies might be clarifying to others, since they were SM's questions and critiques for this article about your paper.]

Just four three quick thoughts in response to your precise questions - more to come:  

1) I do believe that the evidence is overwhelming that taste and price are necessary w/r/t consumer choice on food generally and, more importantly, w/regard to any product that might decrease industrial meat consumption.

Put another way, I don’t think I’ve seen anything in your article (or anywhere else) that challenges the idea that for something to replace industrial animal meat, it will have to taste as good (or better) and compete on price.

I find the 17 citations here convincing (and Chris Bryant’s observation that “price and taste (and health) are always the dominant determinants of food choice” across many other studies with 100+ citations.

2) I agree with your dubiousness about studies that simply ask people what matters to them, but I’m not sure it makes sense to discount what people say entirely - especially when it’s this consistent and also appears in the precise context we’re discussing (see here). 

See also KFC, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, and fast food generally. This feels (to me) like corroboration of the importance of taste and price (and convenience) to food choices. Wal-Mart is the nation’s number one grocer for a reason, I suspect. 

3) I like your question about how important taste and price are to displacement (i.e., 5% v. 85%, etc.); I’m going to think some more about it and will send along some thoughts.

More to come - thanks again, 

Bruce

Hi All - Apologies for my delayed reply; I've been traveling. 

Below is what GFI sent in response to an inquiry from Sentient Media w/r/t Jacob’s article (much appreciation to Jacob for sharing iterations of this article over the past ~3 years, including about a week before this version was posted on the RP website). 

In addition to the thoughts below, this document includes quite a bit of corroboration for the importance of taste, price, and convenience as key determinants of food choice, both generally and in the plant-based meat context. 

***

Response to Inquiry from Sentient Media w/r/t Jacob’s paper:

1. Why did GFI initially adopt the PTC paradigm?

There’s a general consensus among researchers that taste and price are the two two drivers of consumer choice w/r/t food. See here. Convenience and nutrition generally round out the top four. On nutrition, two points:

  • First, see the treatment of nutrition in multiple studies here: Yes, it’s important, but most consumers won’t choose a nutritious product unless it also satisfies across taste and price. 
  • Second, since plant-based meat is healthier than animal-based meat on critical metrics (see, e.g., here and here) and cultivated meat is the same product but without the bacterial contamination (and other forms of contamination), we have generally considered health/nutrition a given. As noted below, it appears consumers may not fully understand the nutrition advantages of plant-based meat, especially - so we may have some messaging challenges to tackle. 

I asked consumer researcher Chris Bryant (Bryant Research) about PTC, and he writes (shared with his permission): 

  • “The term that you want to search on Google Scholar is ‘food choice questionnaire’ – there are many studies with 100+ citations that deploy some version of this questionnaire in a diverse range of populations, and price and taste (and health) are always the dominant determinants of food choice. 
  • Bryant Research (with Plant Futures and ProVeg) is about to publish survey data from 1,000 people in the UK showing through a variety of methods that price and taste are still the key for PBM adoption. They are the most frequently given reasons for reducing/not increasing consumption of PBMs, and they are the most frequently mentioned themes in unprompted, open text questions about the same.”

2. Has GFI's understanding of the PTC paradigm changed over time?

In recent years, we’ve been focusing especially on price and taste (and less on convenience), because: 

  • 1) Those are the two factors that science can help solve for, and GFI’s top goals involve: a) building an ecosystem of scientists and companies who are focused on making price and taste competitive plant-based and cultivated meat, and b) securing government funding for science and infrastructure (the later is in the price vertical); and
  • 2) If we don’t solve price and taste, there’s not much value in making the products convenient (and if we do solve taste & price, the market will likely solve for convenience). 

We agree that even if we solve for price and taste, we don’t know how much market share that will ensure, as there are other important parts of the value proposition. That said, we’re still convinced of two important things: 

  • First, if we don’t compete on price and taste, the products will stay niche, and meat consumption will continue to grow. 
  • Second, if we can create products that compete on price and taste, sales will go up quite a lot, even if other factors will need to be met to gain additional market share. As Lewis wrote, “Even if ‘only’ 11% of people choose meat alternatives, only half of them instead of meat, they’ll spare more sentient beings from suffering than any prior technology.” 

Our basic view is that price and taste are table stakes - that is, they will be necessary for alt proteins to compete with conventional meat. There will be more things that we’ll also have to address to gain more and more market share, of course, but while we’re not close to price and taste parity, that should be our primary focus. 

3. What other factors does GFI believe to be critical to the adoption of alternative proteins (if any)?

There are many additional factors (see all the articles in the supplementary document, and especially the two linked GFI documents), but they are all going to follow price and taste: If we don’t solve price and taste, alternative proteins will remain niche. The most obvious critical factor will be nutrition, so we’re going to have to do more to create RCTs like the Stanford study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and we’re going to need to make sure we’re having strong and effective conversations about the nutrition benefits of plant-based and cultivated meat, generally. 

***

Response to Criticisms:

Critique 1. Evidence in PTC as a general framework is not well-established: consumer surveys often mention other factors as important for food choice.

  • See here, including the note from consumer researcher Chris Bryant. There seems to be a consensus among experts that taste and price are the two most critical factors. Everything we’re aware of points to both as absolute requirements for broad consumer adoption. These two factors are also why per capita meat consumption keeps going up and why vegetarian numbers remain so low. 

Critique 2. Even if PTC were the three most important factors for foods, they likely wouldn't apply to alternative protein, since plant-based, fermented, or cultivated proteins lack brand recognition, familiarity, and may be subject to pro-meat biases from consumers. 

  • This critique does not appear to dispute the importance of price and taste (i.e., I don’t think you’re actually arguing that price and taste don’t matter); it just says “there’s more that’s also important. You also need to think about brand, familiarity, and pro-meat biases,” etc. 
  • Perhaps - but if we can improve taste and price (consistently identified as the two most critical factors), sales will definitely be higher than if we don’t. See the various linked studies.
  • If we’re afraid that sales may be inhibited by issues of brand, familiarity, and pro-meat biases, then we need to address those things too. But doing that will be a lot more effective if we have price & taste parity. 
  • Aside: Brand & familiarity issues are a part of why GFI sees value in Tyson, Cargill, JBS, Smithfield, and other mainstream meat companies leaning in on plant-based and cultivated meat. 

I appreciate your catching this, David - I would not have noticed this and would have been pretty confused by Linch's comment. I did go back and edit the transcript to align with the video, and I appreciate your noting this. 

Edited per your excellent comment that the text flipped the meaning of the video:

The third point is that alternative proteins address multiple risks to long-term flourishing and they should be a priority for longtermists. I'm not going to try to convince you they should be the priority or that they're on par with AI risk or bioengineered pandemics. But I am going to try to convince you that unless you are working for an organization that is focused on one thing, you should add alternative proteins to your portfolio if you are focused on longtermism.

Also slightly edited this bit to better capture the video: 

[16:40] In Toby Ord's book The Precipice he says, "Risks greater than 1 in 1,000 should be central global priorities." ... my goal is not going to be to convince you [that] if you're working on unaligned AI or bioengineered pandemics (What are they - 1 in 10 and 1 in 30 existential risks) that this is something that you should do instead. But if you are working in policy... you can have a more diverse portfolio than unaligned AI and bioengineered pandemics. In fact, it's probably to our benefit to have a more diverse portfolio. And I would contend that alternative proteins should be a part of that portfolio for all of the reasons that I've just described...

Linch, thanks so much for your comment. I think I agree with all of it, and I was pretty confused initially, b/c I didn’t realize the transcription error. 

But yes, as David notes, the transcript flipped my point: I am not arguing that any of the external costs of alt proteins clock in at anywhere near a 1 in 10 or 1 in 30 X-risk.

My point is just (as noted in # 3 of my synopsis) that they are "sufficiently high... to warrant attention from longtermists” who are in a position to advance more than one thing (e.g., working in government or philanthropy, where you can have a portfolio). 

Examples: 

- Government: Adding alt proteins to one’s portfolio will often be fairly easy - e.g., at OSTP or NSF or in a congressional office.

- Philanthropy: Some philanthropists will insist on giving with a focus on global health, biodiversity, or climate; where that happens, steering them toward alt proteins can make a lot of sense. 

Apologies for the transcription error - fixed, as detailed in my next comment. 

Thanks so much for your comments, Vasco - I appreciate your engagement, and I find your comments fascinating. 

I'm sorry for my shoddy wording. Yes, my point (thanks for jumping in, Benny!) was only that if animal agriculture doubles by 2050, that will double these harms, which are already quite severe. I updated bullet two of my introduction to make this clear.

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