When OWN published its first story on the increasing popularity of insect foods in 2015 these products were mainly based on cricket flour. Now, as more and more products are popping up on the market, we are taking another look at the entomophagy phenomenon, and some very forward-thinking entrepreneurs who are driving the development of insect cuisine. How about a spicy bug burger, pizza topped with a mealworm, a tasty insect snack or a cricket cocktail? Even our four-footed friends can now enjoy a hearty meal of insect pellets.
So why should we eat insects in the first place? Insects are rich in proteins and vitamins, easier to rear than other animals and require less space and water, and they can be eaten in a variety of ways. Another positive aspect is that raising, processing and selling insects can contribute to economic development in some of the poorest regions of the world, as they are comparatively inexpensive to farm. If you are still not convinced, a recent study shows that cricket consumption can improve your gut flora by supporting the growth of probiotic bacteria and by reducing the levels of plasma TNF-α, which has been associated with intestinal inflammation and several inflammatory gut conditions. Environmental experts have recommended insects as a resource that could help combat world hunger and save the planet.
Even if the West has just woken up to the many benefits of eating insects, this is an established part of the food culture in many parts of the world. There are almost 1,900 species of edible insects. According to The United Nation’s Food & Agriculture Administration (FAO), around 2 billion people worldwide eat insects as part of their regular diet.
Entomophagy is a new trend in the western world and is rarely regulated. This has led to some uncertainty among public institutions like food agencies, health care departments, and customers. Some countries, like the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, do not count edible insects as “novel food” and have authorized import and sales. In the EU, however, edible insects are defined as “novel foods” and they must be evaluated for safety, labeling, and nutritional value before they can be sold as food. The process is lengthy but once a species is accepted, it can be marketed in all the EU countries.
Anders Engström, insect foods advocate and author of the first book in Swedish about eating insects, has been following the entomophagy trend and EU decision-making process for years.
“At the moment it is unclear what will happen with the EU legislation in 2019. It all depends if the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) accepts the applications that have been submitted. I am hopeful that at least one species will be approved for sale, consumption, and import across the whole EU before the end of the year. I believe that in the future, we will be consuming insects pretty much in the same way that we eat prawns and other crustaceans today, in combination with the use of insect powders in many different culinary applications.”
Belgium, Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Finland have challenged the EU’s ruling and were given a transition period, ending in January 2019, during which it is allowed to sell insect foods.
Griidy is a Finnish brand operated by Finsect that has Europe’s biggest network of insect farmers and source their crickets from 26 different producers from around Finland.
“In Finland, it has been legal to farm and produce edible insects from the end of 2017, and we have been working in the field actively since 2015,” says Antti Reen, CEO of Finsect. “It has given us a great opportunity to be one of the first to enter the market in Europe. We aim to reach more countries and markets in the coming years and get people to try insects as food in different situations and to make the farm-to-fork-chain as efficient as possible at the same time. As the markets open in Europe, we will start seeing interesting things from big players as well.”
Griidy is currently sold in organic eco-stores, mainly in Finland, but they are working their way into mainstream grocery stores, and in February they will open a webshop as well.
“B2B is one of our main target areas in addition to consumer products. For example, we offer cricket flour for different uses in industries,” Antti explains. “R&D has taken a while. To reach bigger crowds at a reasonable price point is one of our main challenges and this is something we will be focusing on. But things are starting to build up and we are looking forward to seeing a minimum of three to five times growth in sales compared to last year.”
Denmark is investing in the insect industry which will pave the way for many bug entrepreneurs and the introduction of new and exciting products. A company that is new on the Danish market is Syngja. Their unique Bugs'nShot products are organic energy boosters which are enhanced with insect protein and are designed with mainstream consumers in mind.
“Our juices and shots contain 100% natural and organic high-quality ingredients,” says Philip Price, CMO. “After a year of intense R&D, we have manufactured the world's only lean beverage enriched with crickets. I think our products have great potential regarding nutritional functionality within the beverage category.”
Germany is also starting to relax the rules on edible insects. Baris Özel is the founder of Bugfoundation and Germany’s first insect burger. Made from buffalo worms and select vegetarian ingredients, it is a crunchy, juicy and nutritious delight that can rival any traditional burger. Özel started the company in 2015, and the insect burgers can already be found in more than 1000 supermarkets in Germany, and in several restaurants and catering businesses in the Netherlands.
“We hope to see a change in the EU legislation very soon as studies that show that it is safe to eat insects are starting to emerge. We have seen an increase in demand from customers in recent years which is also reflected in our sales figures. Currently, we are in talks with a large German burger chain which is a fascinating development for us,” says Özel, He stress, however, that the most important thing for him is to have a tasty, healthy product that has been produced sustainably.
Something that we do not often think about when we talk about the climate is the effect that our pets have on the environment. It is interesting to know that pets consume about 20% of the world’s meat and fish, and this number is expected to rise as consumers increasingly feed them human-grade meat. Pet food is estimated to account for a quarter of the environmental impact of meat production. To address this problem several companies have now developed pet food made from insects. One example is the British start-up company Yora, which launched what they claim to be the world’s most sustainable dog food at the beginning of this year. It is made from a mix of black-soldier flies, oats, and potatoes.
There is still a lot of work to be done to expand the European market for bugs, but as more and more people embrace insect foods and the legal framework changes, this new market will present significant opportunities.
Some other exciting innovations from Europe and other parts of the world to look out for this year, and in the future - the insect bio-refinery, Biteback, is developing insect oil as a sustainable alternative to palm oil. The light Beetle Beer, which is packed with protein and rich in taste, combines traditional Belgian brewing methods with the modern flavors of bugs. Flavored insects, insect pasta, protein bars, shakes and different foods enriched with insect powder are also something that we will probably see a whole lot more of as bugs go mainstream.