Is Insect Food the Future or a Fantasy?

Insect Food is the Future

In order sustainably feed the rapidly growing appetite or our world, we need to change our diets.

And none other than the UN has declared insects to be part of the solution in a 200-page report they released and which has been downloaded over 7 million times. Subsequently, the biggest news outlets from around the world have been spreading the word. Insects are the future of food.

Insects are already a staple of a quarter of the world’s diet and unintentionally eaten by us anyways (up to two pounds a year!). So now - and with the backing of major organizations like the UN - eating insects is about to go mainstream.

Coming soon to a plate near you!

Coming soon to a plate near you!

A Symbiotic Relationship

Insects are amazingly sustainable and nutritious. They are good for us and for Mother Nature.

Crickets, the "gateway bug", need fractions of the water, feed, and space that traditional livestock do, and they emit almost zero greenhouse gases.

They’re also superfoods, higher in protein and vital micronutrients than the meats (and veggies) we typically eat. 

Oh, and they're tasty. Depending on who you ask, they are either nutty, shrimp-like, pretty tasteless, or just like bacon. 

Biting Into the Market

Insect-powered products including chips, bars, sauces, and protein powders are breaking into the market, backed by swarms of early adopters who have got them off the ground through successful Kickstarter campaigns.

And now insect foods are taking the first steps towards mainstream market penetration. Trailblazing Mark Cuban-backed energy bar company Chapul is now available in upwards of 1,000 US-wide retail locations, including Publix and Sprouts.

Rumours are also swirling of big food companies reaching out to cricket farmers and doing their own R&D. It's just a matter of time before insect food is as prevalent as quinoa. 

Coming soon to a supermarket aisle near you! (image source: @chirpycrickets)

Coming soon to a supermarket aisle near you! (image source: @chirpycrickets)

Time for Metamorphosis

The insect food phenomenon has reached the antennae of the venture capital world. Cricket-bar manufacturer Exo closed a $4 million round earlier this year and Tiny Farms got Mark Zuckerberg’s sister on board for an undisclosed sum.

Market research reports back the wisdom of these investments. They forecast the US market to grow from a just few million today to as much as $60 million in 2023 and globally to upwards of $1.5 billion by 2021

Spreading Like Locusts

Insect farmers are racing to keep up with this rapidly growing demand. Entomo Farms, the largest producer in North America, has grown from 5,000 square feet in 2014 to 60,000 square feet today, and estimates to be up to 100,000 by the end of the year. Now, many other insect farms are jumping on board to get in on the action.

As the industry scales up, expertise, technology, and costs are improving just as rapidly. Entomo Farms says that wholesale costs have gone down 40% in the past year alone.

It's just a matter of time before the burgeoning insect industry catches up with its less sustainable, conventional competition. 

Join the Colony

Insect food is definitely no fad. It's here for the long run, and going to play a pivotal role in nourishing us and future generations sustainably (and deliciously). 

Pretty soon not just your garden will be overrun with insects, but your pantry will be too. 

Soon to be the second most popular cricket in the world. 

Soon to be the second most popular cricket in the world. 

Insect Food is a Fantasy

Over the past couple years you might have read an article or two about eating insects. Maybe even you tried once. But I'm willing to bet you haven't started pouring them over your granola every day. Eating insects is a novelty and its time in the spotlight is up.

The tastemakers have spoken: Of 1,600 chefs surveyed earlier this year, 71% said that insects are yesterday’s news.

Even the UN appears to be moving on. Their edible insects coordinator retired and no replacement is being brought in for the role.

The world is moving on to the next fad. Insects are left to wiggle within the tiny niche they’ve carved out.

Destined for the compost.

Destined for the compost.

Squashed by Competition

Sure crickets are nutritious and sustainable, but plenty other foods are too. They offer the same benefits without the risk of inducing your gag reflex. A well-balanced mostly vegetarian diet, for example. 

And for those of you who can’t give up burgers, have you tried the newest veggie impersonations? They even fool the world's best chefs. Plus there is lab-created meat, which is coming just around the corner to tantalize our tastebuds and swat away the pesky insects’ tiny market share.

Bottom line: There’s no reason to try something completely unfamiliar when perfectly conventional foods can do the same trick. 

Nothing But Buzz

Despite three years of hype, not a single established food company has introduced an insect-containing product.

Only small startups have tried and their sales are almost entirely online to early adopters, far from the mainstream. Indeed, insect products are only available in roughly 2.5% of supermarkets in the US.

What's more, insects are barely in many “insect-based” products themselves. For example, the 40 crickets in an Exo bar may be large in number, but it’s small in size. Crickets make up only about 6% of a 60-gram bar’s total weight

Good luck finding these products anywhere. (image source: @chirpycrickets)

Good luck finding these products anywhere. (image source: @chirpycrickets)

Investor Repellant

Investors haven’t been fooled by the hype. Funding of insect food startups is as tiny as the bugs themselves when compared to the behemoth investments their veggie-based food competitors like Hampton Creek ($120 million) and Impossible Foods ($182 million) have received.

Sure, market research forecasts are throwing out big numbers (possibly in the interest of selling their $4,000+ reports?), but nobody has put really money (or insects) where their mouth is. 

A Bugged-Out Business Model

Besides obvious cultural barriers, the huge issue for those in the insect food industry is that insects are simply not yet economical. Farming remains very manual and thus very expensive. Despite advances and increased scale, wholesale cricket powder is still around $25 a pound. That is more than three times costlier than whey protein or even spirulina.

Compounding the issue is that insects are subject to catastrophic and still poorly understood die-offs that have stopped promising start ups in their tracks.

The insect cuisine industry has a long way to go to reach the scale and pricing of competition. Too long. 

After-Bite

Insect food is an interesting concept but, while little bits and pieces may stick, the industry is not likely to grow much more than it has already.

The insect food industry is a caterpillar that turned into an attention-grabbing butterfly, fluttered around a bit… then died. 

Cricket is a sport, not a food. 

Cricket is a sport, not a food. 

 
Future or Fantasy? *
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