Following their gut instincts: consumers wouldn’t trust fast food chains to provide clean meat

The birthplace of the hamburger, the cheeseburger and, of course, southern fried chicken, the USA is the home of fast food. It’s a hard ask to find someone who isn’t aware of a few American fast food chains, and because brands such as McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Dominos and Five Guys can be found in cities world-wide, you don’t even need to have visited the States to have tried the food for yourself. These low cost, highly convenient restaurants generate billions of dollars each year, but, with the rise of veganism and vegetarianism and increasing concern about the environment, would US adults be willing to see their favourite fast food chains serving ‘clean meat’ (lab grown meat which is designed to reduce the impact meat production has on the environment and animals) instead?

We wanted to better understand the eating habits in the US, specifically in the area of diets, clean meat and food brands and restaurants they would trust to serve clean meat to their families. Although 9 out of 10 of those questioned would trust at least one of the restaurants listed to provide their families with clean meat, the results showed that there is generally a lack of trust for individual fast food chains and that brands might need to do more to build trust amongst consumers when it comes to feeding their families in the future.

Despite Chick-fil-A topping the ranking, only 43% respondents would trust the brand when it came to providing clean meat. However, Chick-fil-A’s trust rating comes 13% higher than second most trusted chain, Panera, which just 3 in 10 Americans would trust.

Moreover, the restaurants ranked bottom of the list (Au Bon Pain and Little Caesars) were trusted by only 4% of respondents, meaning that over 9 out of 10 US adults would not trust the chain to feed themselves or their family clean meat.

McDonalds, arguably the most well-known fast food chain globally with 36,899 restaurants worldwide, was given a trust rating of just 16% for providing clean meat, slightly more than Burger King which was trusted by 14% of respondents and slightly less than Starbucks, trusted by 18% of respondents.

One of the more surprising results on the ranking is Chipotle’s position as the fourth most trusted fast food restaurant for providing clean meat in the future, scoring a 23% trust rating, just behind Subway which scored 29%. Since late 2015, Chipotle has been plagued with several disastrous outbreaks of E-Coli that saw the chain almost lose business entirely and gave the chain a difficult reputation to overcome. Despite this, Chipotle comes higher than 22 other restaurants on the list, beating famous fast food chains such as McDonalds, KFC, Taco Bell and Dominos.

The ranking of restaurants shows that, despite their popularity, high annual revenues, and brand equity, fast food restaurants are generally regarded with a lack of trust by US consumers when it comes to potentially providing lab grown meat. The most trusted restaurant on the list, Chick-fil-A, would still not be trusted by 6/10 Americans to feed their family in the future, while the least trusted restaurants would be trusted by just 4%. The mean result was only a 14% trust rating across all restaurants to provide clean meat and 1 in 10 of those questioned said they wouldn’t trust any of the fast food restaurants with clean meat. However, this may represent the general suspicion around clean meat itself in the US; our study found that only 17% of respondents were aware of the lab grown meat before the survey was taken and just 27% of adults would actually be willing to try it. This suggests that clean meat itself needs to gain trust from consumers, which is something fast food chains can play a part in if they want to stay at the forefront of the future of food.