Edible insects insights Pt 3: Growth potential should pique interest of investors

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Global Market Insights values the sector at $520 million by 2023, with a growth of 40% per annum. ©iStock
Global Market Insights values the sector at $520 million by 2023, with a growth of 40% per annum. ©iStock
Bangkok-based expert of edible insects, Massimo Reverberi, has penned a three-part overview into the history, opportunities and challenges of expanding the market for alternative sources of protein. In this final article, he unveils the industry's impressive growth prospects.

The market research firm Blueshift Research asked a sample of consumers to contemplate the thought of eating insects. The most likely consumers were between the age of 30 and 44 years, with a middle to high income.

According to a similar survey conducted in the UK by Canadean, out of the 2,000 respondents, 803 would try a processed food with insects. Both studies highlight that the high number of newspaper articles in the West helped people to understand the reasons to eat bugs.

The research results of the University of Turku Finland, in collaboration with the local Natural Resources Institute show that 70% of 585 respondents were interested in eating insects (with a strong component of people under the age of 45, proving that the food taboo tends to consolidate in age and with customs).

There is no doubt that there is a problem of perception in the West. From a rational point of view, there are no reasons to consider an insect disgusting. Snails (escargot), pig’s feet, frogs or cheese (mold), which many Western countries eat daily, do not look less “monstrous”. One of the most respected academic studying distaste, the psychologist Paul Rozin, also considers disgust towards insects as fundamentally irrational.

The most extreme reactions are when the insect is whole, unprocessed — the visual impact of a whole locust proposed as food is very different from that of a chips containing cricket or silkworm flour. When people taste a food containing insects, most claim that "it doesn’t taste like bugs”, even if it is the first time they eat a bug food. They show how their illogical perception toward edible insects works.

In addition there is not "an" insect flavour, but over 2,000 different flavours — as many species that are now considered edible. 

"Participants really liked the cookies with the cricket flour and roasted crickets,"​ states a report from Wageningen University. In fact, there seems to be no problem with the taste of insects, as confirmed by joint research at Oxford University, London University and Nordic Food Lab.

People just need to overcome the preconception to know that the real taste is appreciated by the large majority of the people.

"Eating is a highly relational activity, which intersects with other social practices such as work, school, socialization,"​ notes Jonas House in the study Consumer acceptance of insect-based foods in The Netherlands​.

This reasoning justifies the attitude of Western consumers in the events, special dinners, and festivals where insects are served. When they are chef prepared, presented as a delicatessen and eaten in a collective context, the insects become highly attractive for most.

Investment and growth estimates

According to Research firm Global Market Insight (GMI), the edible insect industry category attracting the most investments will start with breeding, and then give way to industrial activities (food processing).

In fact, in the initial phase (2013-2017), there had not been many supermarkets that decided to put edible insects on the shelves (at least in the countries in which selling insect products is legal). The start-ups have relied mostly on online sales, on its website or through one of the new sites specialising in insects. In this context, it is difficult to have meaningful sales figures.

Finally in 2018 Metro Germany, Coop Switzerland, Carrefour Spain and SOK Finland started some tests in their supermarkets, despite the legal “grey” area about selling insects in the EU. Other pilots are going on in the US and Canada.

Global Market Insights (2016) gives the market a superior size of $520 million by 2023, with a growth of 40% per annum. For another researcher, Arcluster, the development would be even more rapid and substantial, with an estimated market of $1.5bn by 2021. Persistence Market Research (PMR) is in an intermediate range, assuming for 2024, a size of $723m. This data could convince venture capitalists to invest in the sector.

The new associations to support entomophagy

Together with start-ups, the panorama of edible insects has been enriched by a number of national associations representing the interests of the sector and especially promoting the consumption of insects as food (and as feed).

In 2013, Robert Nathan Allen founded Little Herds in the USA, the most famous association for promotion of consumption of edible insects in the Americas, specialising in educational and communication initiatives. The North America Edible Insect Coalition (NAEIC) created two years later also by Allen, along with some US edible insect start-ups, instead focuses on the industrial aspects and lobbying activities (both for food and feed).

In Europe, the most famous is IPIFF, which aims to represent companies from all over Europe, particularly at the institutional level (and for this reason the office is in Brussels, a few steps from the European Parliament). Made up of a mix of start-ups and medium-sized enterprises, IPIFF promotes the use of insects both as food and feed, with an EU protectionist approach.

In Europe there are also BiiF in Belgium (small, but very active) and FFPIDI in France. In Italy there are no associations but organizations like Italbugs and Entonote bring on educational activities.

In Asia, AFFIA (Asean Food and Feed Insect Association) was founded in 2016. Based in Bangkok, it’s connected with the other associations and promotes bugs as both feed and food at the Asian level.

Massimo Reverberi is the founder of Bugsolutely China and Bugsolutely Thailand, and co-founder of AFFIA, the Asian edible insect association.

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