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Another step was made this week towards edible insects as a source of protein for humans. Question is, Will bugs ever become an ordinary part of the ordinary American’s diet?
This is not a new question. For years, the food industry, the media, and even the United Nations have urged cultures not historically acclimated to bugs to consider insects like mealworms and grasshoppers as more sustainable forms of protein. Mealworms, for example, are high in protein and require less land to produce than traditional meat sources like cows or chicken.
And speaking of mealworms, this week, insect protein startup Ÿnsect announced it had acquired Dutch agtech company Protifarm, which raises mealworms for human food consumption. A press release from Ÿnsect noted that the deal will let the company speed up its manufacturing process for foods geared towards humans, providing yet another source of alternative protein for the planet. The news comes a few months after the European Food Safety Authority granted its approval of mealworms for human consumption. Ÿnsect also plans to file for GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status in the U.S.
Additionally, France-based Ÿnsect will be able to expand internationally with the integration of Protifarm, which has food customers in Germany, the Netherlands, England, Denmark, and Belgium. In fact, the acquisition makes Ÿnsect the world’s largest producer of insect food and animal feed, and bumps its portfolio of patents to nearly 300.
Were we talking about anything other than mealworms for human consumption, all the above points would suggest mainstream success is a likelihood if not a foregone conclusion.
But we are, in fact, talking about bugs, and any hope of eliminating (or lessening) the “ick” factor involved is going to require a seismic change in perception for many consumers. Roughly 2 billion people around the world eat insects on the regular, but they don’t typically live in the countries Ÿnsect is eyeing for expansion, which includes those listed above as well as the United States.
One way to potentially enable a perception change is to make insects an ingredient, such as a powder, that gets added to other foods, rather than a standalone item. Consumers might be more likely to buy a pasta made with mealworm powder than, say, dried mealworms in a vacuum-sealed bag for snacking.
Ÿnsect, for example, has a Buffalo mealworm ingredient that is part of biscuits, pastas, sport nutrition bars, and meat substitute products. The company also told AgFunder this week that it is targeting athletes first, who might be attracted to the health benefits of mealworm protein. Hardcore environmentalists are another group that could potentially be swayed, particularly those that want alternative sources of protein but are skeptical about the nutrition profile of the current pack of plant-based meats on offer. Making insects part of an experience, say, at a theme park, is also another avenue in. After all, Doritos were invented from trash at Disneyland, and so who’s to say cookies made with cricket powder wouldn’t be a hit in Fantasyland?
Insects becoming a staple of the average Western household, however, still feels like a long shot. At the very least, it would take some serious marketing genius to even start to change mainstream consumers’ perceptions around eating bugs, to say nothing of the research and development that would have to go into creating products that taste as good or better than traditional protein sources. And there will always be those consumers that turn their noses up at the stuff on principle.
These issues aren’t actually unique to mealworms and other insects. In fact, as I write this, cultured meat is dealing with its own consumer perception challenges, albeit on a different scale, as well as hurdles around creating a product that tastes as good as traditional protein.
All of which is to say, mealworms, crickets, and the like may yet have their moment. It will just probably look a whole lot different than what most of us still imagine when we hear the phrase “edible insect.”
Alt-Protein News From the Week
Revo Foods Raises €1.5M to Advance its 3D-Printed Alternative Salmon – The company will use the funding to accelerate its 3D food printing process, as well as expand its team.
Cultured Decadence Raises $1.6M to Make Lobster in a Lab – The Wisconsin-based cell ag company will use to the new funds to create what it says will be the first cell-cultured lobster meat in North America
Beyond Meat Boosts European Retail Presence – The plant-based meat giant said it is bolstering its presence at retail stores across Europe this spring, including those in Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United Kingdom.