Why the meat didn’t take off? Because it fell down in an uncanny valley. It’s not crazy, but a very interesting story. We will talk about the famous company Beyond Meat (#BYND), which I already mentioned in one of my posts.
In 2019, this plant-based meat company was on top of the world. Beyond Meat had just gone public, and reached a market value of over $11 billion. BYND deals with several fast food brands, most notably McDonald’s and Yum! Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.
Leonardo DiCaprio invested in this start-up. Along with DiCaprio, Bill Gates, Biz Stone & Evan Williams (Twitter co-founders) and venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield have all invested. At that time, many argued that the future belongs to plants.
I think you know this story. This was followed by the failure of Beyond Meat’s business and an analysis of the reasons that led to this result. Somehow, people tried, but did not continue to eat meat made from vegetables. Why?
There were many speculations. For example, it has been suggested that Beyond Meat products flopped because of their cost. Another version says that their meat does not look much like meat. But the problem may be something completely different. Maybe on the contrary, it looks like meat? Too much like meat. Here we come to the uncanny valley phenomenon.
The uncanny valley
The uncanny valley is a concept that describes how we humans feel when we see something that looks almost, but not quite, like a real human or living being. Imagine you see a robot or an animated character that appears very realistic, but there’s something slightly off or not quite natural about its appearance or movements. It can make us feel uncomfortable, uneasy, or even creeped out.
The idea behind the uncanny valley is that as things become more and more human-like, we tend to feel more positive and connected towards them. For example, think of a simple cartoon character like Mickey Mouse. We can easily relate to it and feel a sense of warmth or affection. However, as things get even more realistic, like a robot or computer-generated character that looks almost human, but not quite perfect, we start to feel a strange sense of discomfort.
This discomfort occurs because our brain is wired to recognize and respond to human-like features, but when those features are not quite right, it creates a sense of unease. It’s as if our brain is telling us that something is not quite natural or normal about what we’re seeing. This can be due to subtle differences in facial expressions, movements, or other cues that our brain is constantly processing.
In simple terms, the uncanny valley refers to the uncomfortable feeling we get when something looks almost human, but not quite, and it can make us feel weird or creeped out. Maybe super-realistic but not real meat also triggers the uncomfortable feeling we get when something looks almost meat, but not quite.
As for me, I found myself feeling strangely uncomfortable when I tried vegan beetroot sausage. How about you?