Ento’s insect-based burger patty has been developed in conjunction with a two-star Michelin chef in Singapore, but was launched in Malaysia first last month in partnership with the firm’s strategic partner Sunway Group.
“The Ento burger patty is one of the world’s first insect-based burger patties made with plant-based ingredients such as hydrolysed wheat proteins, shitake, herbs and more but proteinised using Ento cricket powder,” Ento CEO Kevin Wu told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“We’ve just launched the product in December 2020, and are now entering foodservice first with local burger chain myBurgerLab in Q2 2021. The burger tastes just like mushrooms and has a rich umami flavour with a firm bite. It also looks just like a beef burger as we’ve used beetroot juice to make it a bit reddish.”
Wu is a big fan of Beyond Meat, and Ento’s business and marketing strategy for its burger patty has very much mirrored the plant-based firm’s approach in countries like Singapore: By first making an initial B2B launch with well-known foodservice chains to gain consumer awareness and increase recognition, before moving on to B2C plans and selling products directly to consumers.
“We definitely want to go down a similar route as Beyond Meat, just in the insect-based instead of the plant-based sector, so retailing the Ento burger patty in retail outlets like they have done with the Beyond Burger is definitely something we are looking to do,” said Wu.
“The plan is to build up consumer recognition of the burger first via our collaboration with myBurgerLab, which is a very well-known and loved burger chain here in Malaysia, then move into doing retail products, which I’d hope can be done by the end of the year.”
When asked about the challenges expected in gaining consumer acceptance for an insect-based burger, especially in a country like Malaysia which is not traditionally entomophagic, Wu acknowledged that a difficult path lies ahead, but expressed optimism about the prospects.
“I actually very much see Ento now as Beyond Meat was in 2009, when the landscape was extremely heavy on meat-based diets, plant-based products were limited to a very small section in supermarkets, and it was basically not ‘cool’ to eat plants – restaurants would have just one, if any, such options,” he said.
“That’s how Beyond started, facing an uphill battle of explaining why plant-based was better as compared to traditional meat-based products, battling a huge industry lobbying the government for subsidies, etc.
“They’ve had an uphill struggle and this is very relevant for Ento – we are seeing similar challenges including legacy, education, perception, supply chain and so on. It’s also an uphill battle here, but if we look at it from a pure science and nutrition standpoint, there are many compelling reasons to adopt insect protein into our diets – it’s high in protein, minerals, fatty acids, B vitamins etc. and also much better for the environment.
“So I would think that in 10 years, Ento can appeal to a much broader audience – perhaps not as wide as Beyond Meat has done, but if we could even achieve half the impact, that would be a real sense of achievement for the team here.”
Regional expansion plans
Ento’s ambitions are not confined to just Malaysia though – within 12 months, Wu hopes to launch the burger regionally through South East Asia and be present in major cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh.
“This is just version one of the Ento burger patty – again, we want to emulate what Beyond Meat is doing with their plant-based burger patty which is do R&D to ‘make our own current products obsolete’ by continuously coming up with new and better versions of our insect-based product, and even innovating it to accommodate flavours consumers look for such as lobster and wagyu beef,” he said.
“We’re also considering the strategy of launching in cities like London, New York or San Francisco, which would be ideal too as I believe we’d be able to find many early adopters here due to the sustainability aspect of insect protein consumption.
“But for now the focus is here, and regardless of whether in the East or West, it will be younger consumers that are more open to the idea of alternative proteins such as these due to it fitting in with the idea of next-gen proteins, a concept which is extremely appealing to those wanting to make a difference in sustainability and health.”