The cultivated meat industry is still in its infancy, and like many other burgeoning technologies—food or otherwise—the actual agreed-upon name for what the finished product will be called is being debated by those who make it.

Unlike physical media vs. streaming, for example, the cultivated meat category isn’t about choosing one format over another. The process—I’m oversimplifying here—is similar across the board, where stem cells from an animal or seafood species are isolated in tanks and fed nutrients until they grow into that creature’s in-the-flesh protein. 

Those I interviewed for our cover story had strong opinions about what this category should be called. Some agreed with cultivated meat. Another cited an academic study that concluded this sector should be named ‘cell-cultured.’ Another prefers ‘cultured meat.’ All of these companies plan to roll out their first products to chefs and foodservice before retail. However, the name game will eventually be sorted out in coming years not by manufacturers, but by consumers.

I’m reminded of a magazine assignment I had for another publication more than a decade ago to a Massachusetts seafood company that planned to popularize the relatively unknown (to the U.S. anyway) species of fish called pangasius. I mentioned to the company that the name pangasius wasn’t very appetizing, and they countered confidently that chefs were going to make pangasius a household name, and consumers will follow that name into the retail market, and everybody will be requesting and eating pangasius for years to come.   

Fast-forward to 2022. When was the last time you saw pangasius on a restaurant menu? How much pangasius have you purchased at the grocery store the past year? You get the idea. The actual fish is better known as basa today, because consumers—not the fisheries or foodservice—decided what they thought was an appetizing moniker. 

It will be interesting to see which name the public prefers for cell-grown proteins (which may not even be on the market until 2023 at the earliest), because money talks. The top-down approach of dictating new product nomenclature to consumers doesn’t work unless those consumers agree with that name in the first place.