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The World of Insect Edibles

The edible insect market is expected to grow at a 25% CAGR.

9 Minute Read

What you need to know

  • Despite a stigma, as much as 80% of the world already eats insects. That number is expected to grow as people turn to insects because of their high protein content and relatively low environmental impact.  

How you can capitalize

  • Education and Marketing: If brands are able to smash through the stigma, they will be able to create an exponentially larger market.
  • New product lines: Companies that create new arenas for bug grub will find an unsaturated market.
  • Entertainment: Ever heard of Wine and Bug Tastings? They exist.

Remember when lobster was a “poor man’s food”? How times have changed. Because of their high protein content and low environmental impact the candidate for the “next lobster” may be surprising: insects.

When most people think of insect edibles, they picture street vendors in Bangkok where tourists take pride in their bravery for swallowing scorpions. In reality, billions of people (stats range from 2 billion to 80% of the world) already incorporate some 2000 insect species into their diets.

Past localized delicacies like lime and garlic chapulines (grasshoppers) served in Mexico or the sun dried termites steamed in banana leaves in South America and Africa, innovators are looking to utilize insects to build the “protein of the future”, preparing for a pending population of 9.7b by 2050.

In this piece, we’ll go over the market dynamics of insect edibles, showcase what people are searching for, highlight the benefits of bug grub and the efforts to smash the creepy crawly stigma, and finally identify how you can take part. 

The “Protein of the Future”

Entomophagy, the term for eating insects, is not new. However, the world seems to be more ready for insect edibles than ever.

With people becoming increasingly concerned with sustainability, meat production is under the public eye as it contributes significantly to emissions and resource use. In fact, 45% of the world’s land is dedicated to livestock, with 1-2 acres of rainforest being cleared each second for this purpose. The meat and dairy industry also utilizes an immense amount of water (one-third of freshwater) and the industry contributes ~18% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Insects give people an opportunity to access a protein source that is significantly more eco-friendly, substantially less water and feed to produce equivalent amounts of protein, while also not risking emerging problems like antibiotics or hormone use.

These drivers are resulting in the insect edible market advancing quickly, growing at a 24.4% CAGR, to an anticipated $8b by 2030. Another source has the insect protein market expected to grow at a 45% CAGR, resulting in the market growing 10x over the next decade.

Inside Insect Edibles

A majority of insect edibles are made from the four most popular bugs: crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms, and black soldier flies. However, the world of insect edibles is more diverse than most realize. And people are actively searching for these products, ranging from “cockroach powder” to “bug burgers” to “cricket jerky”, while others are looking for solutions associated with their diet patterns like “gluten-free cricket powder”.

KeywordMonthly Search Volume
insect protein powder590
insect flour1300
cricket flour8100
cricket flour gluten free30
cricket flour whole foods40
cricket protein1600
cricket protein shake50
cockroach flour260
edible bugs2400
grasshopper protein390
grasshopper protein powder70
grasshopper flour210
grasshopper protein vs beef30
bug burger1600
insect burger720
cricket flour recipes590
cricket recipes480
cricket flour pancakes30
cricket protein shake50
cricket jerky20
cricket flour cookies140
cricket cookies390
entomophagy6600
entomophagy recipes40

Bug protein/flour have gained a lot of attention in particular, due to their ability to “mask” the creepy crawly-ness of bug edibles, resulting in demand growing significantly over time. 

A swath of new products have also come to market, including bug meal kits (think Hello Fresh, but with cricket ragu and mealworm falafel). Meanwhile, some companies are looking to flavor the products, by adding unique spice profiles to entire crickets. Others are developing insect milk and ice cream or insect pasta, while others are creating grasshopper or “bumble beer”.

It’s worth noting that high-end restaurants have been including bugs as a delicacy on items like sushi, which also originally permeated its way through the upper-class for a few decades before entering the mainstream.

A full list of insect edibles can be found here.

Benefits of Bug Grub

Insects are not just a solid protein alternative but have notable additional benefits across their nutritional profile.

For one, insects are significantly lower in fat, relative to most animal protein, while bringing all 9 amino acids to the table including threonine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, isoleucine, methionine, leucine, valine, lysine, and histidine, giving it a “complete profile.” They also tend to have higher vitamin and mineral content—with crickets offering 3x the amount of B12 as compared to salmon and 3x as many antioxidants as orange juice. Similarly, crickets have 5x as much magnesium and 3x as much iron, compared to their cow counterparts—and more calcium than milk, plus non-zero fiber, omega-3s and 6s. 

Chitin, the core compound of insect exoskeleton, is also a prebiotic. All the while, insects have a much lower chance of zoonotic disease or antibiotic contamination, as they’re not highly processed. For a more detailed comparison across species, check out this infographic from Edible Insects.

From a sustainability perspective, bugs also have a strong upper hand. For one, they don’t emit any notable amount of greenhouse gases (1% relative to cows). Estimates vary, but approximately 1/10 of the land is required and a tiny fraction of the water is required, with Exoprotein citing it at 1/2000 of the amount of cows. Pork and chicken fall at 800 and 567 gallons respectively. 

As for crickets? They’re more than half protein by volume, at 65%. That’s around double your favorite beef jerky at 33%. Your Sunday steak would probably fall at around 20%. Crickets are an efficient source of protein, requiring one sixth of the feed required by cattle to generate the same amount of protein.

“Excuse Me, Miss. There’s a bug in my drink.”

Unfortunately, the insect industry is still being held up by the “ick factor”. However, there is reason to believe this perception will change over time. 

For one, although consumption lags behind in European and North American markets where the taboo is strongest, insect protein is scaling quickly in those regions, as the stigma slowly is reduced.

Various restaurants are incorporating insects into their menus, including Linger (Denver) which serves Thai Sausage Mi Krop incorporating black ants and crickets, Vij’s (Vancouver) which has added cricket flour paratha and pizza over the years, and El Catrin (Toronto) which serves a cricket taco. It seems that people just need to give it a shot to be convinced. Joseph Yoon (NYC) takes it a step further with Brooklyn Bugs, where he offers insect cooking demonstrations, workshops, and catering.

In a 2014 study, 189 adults took a shot at baked crickets and mealworms, and the majority said they’d eat bug grub again. Similarly, a Dutch study gave subjects a beef meatball and a 50:50 beef:mealworm ball. The verdict? Most preferred the “insect-ball”. Finally, an English study of 1000+ people showed that 35% of people would be open to insect edibles, but this number increased impressively to 47% if the individuals exercised daily.

Insect-protein products in the past have mostly been sold online and direct-to-consumer (DTC). Recently companies have been finding traction through partnerships with larger supermarkets and retailers. Eat Grub (UK) found its way into 400 SOK stores (among Finland’s largest super markets), while Jimini (France) managed to score Carrefour across 300 stores. These developments will likely funnel into slowly stripping away the “ick factor”. 

Risking it for the Cricket

The Bug Burger has tracked the array of businesses tackling the bug equation across 30+ countries, splitting the list up by categories including for animal or human consumption, research projects, and even which startups disappeared over time. Golden has also compiled another impressive list of over 400 such companies participating.

Some of the biggest players at this time include Aspire Food Group (which acquired Exo and is the largest supplier of cricket protein in the USA), Entomo Farms (a Canadian company that is North America’s largest human-grade edible insect farm supplying bug ingredients to 8 countries), and Hargol FoodTech (an Isreali company that is building a food-grade grasshopper facility). Meanwhile, Thailand has over 20,000 insect farms.

The International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF) is an EU non-profit which reports that among the 54 members of their platform, €355m has been invested. Other notable investments include Ÿnsect–a French startup focused on insect farming–which raised their Series C at $125m, bringing their total funding to $172.3m. Meanwhile, AgriTech Capital names over 20 other startups which have brought in over $1m in funding, including Protix that raised €45m and offers a suite of products made from black soldier flies, targeted at animal and aquaculture solutions, AgriProtein which has raised $122.5m, and InnovaFeed with €55.2m raised.

Even large non-bug focused conglomerates, like McDonald’s and agriculture giants like Cargill. Meanwhile, Entomo Farms raised their Series A directly from Maple Leaf Foods. Clearly, for the right insect edible project, there are people willing to listen and write a check. 

Insects for Animals

In addition to human provisions, there’s ample room for insects to provide eco-friendly alternatives for animal feed as well, which is a $442b market

As aforementioned, insect-based protein has a different nutritional profile as compared to soy or corn, benefiting the animals by providing them with essential amino acids and other micronutrients like vitamin B12 and calcium. Chitin, a key structural component of insect exoskeleton has been found to boost the immune system in chickens, resulting in less harmful antibiotics.

These dynamics result in more efficient feed ratios, but also a lower environmental impact. And since pets consume food equivalent to an estimated 20% of the American population, the impact of transitioning this food source is not trivial. As such, Nestle Purina has started experimenting with a cricket-based line, while others like Wilder and Harrier offer insect and seaweed-based dog foods.

Opportunities

  • Education and Marketing: There’s still ample room to educate and develop more effective marketing strategies. Bug products, although getting more traction, are still taboo. If brands are able to smash through the stigma, they will be able to create an exponentially larger market. Smart companies will take advantage of how bug protein fits into other popular trends, like gluten-free, paleo, and keto.
  • Cooking: Some sites, like Cricket Flours have begun to share insect-edible recipes or Seek’s Cricket Cookbook which partnered with award-winning chefs. With the search volume for these terms likely increase significantly in the future, there’s opportunity to become the early go-to resource for insect nutrition. There is also an opportunity to educate the population on benefits, with 72% of people in a UK-based study not understanding the benefits of an insect-based diet.
  • New Product Lines: Insect products are still in their early days. Companies that innovate by coming up with new arenas for bug grub will likely find themselves a nice, unsaturated market. 
  • Entertainment: Restaurants can start to incorporate bug-centric recipes into their menu, drawing in the mindful and curious crowds. You better bet that you’ll get some free marketing from the ‘gram as well. Look out for insect events, like Buggable’s Insect Fair and “Wine and Bug Tastings”
  • Optimization: The cost of scaling production for cricket and grasshopper farming is still relatively daunting. Companies are investing in technology, to reduce the cost of production. Some companies, like Aspire Food Group, are utilizing AI technology while others are looking to optimize the feed given to the insects (currently, grasshoppers are fed grass). The price of cricket powder is still a lofty ~$35-45/lb, which is largely preventative to the market exploding. As research leads to significant optimizations, this will allow a huge opening for others to join the market and other distribution opportunities.

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