‘Insects the new sushi’: Ÿnsect sees Japan and Korea as attractive markets for mealworm protein

By Guan Yu Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

The new site, which will be based in Amiens Métropole (Hauts-de-France), is co-financed by the European Commission and the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) ©Ÿnsect
The new site, which will be based in Amiens Métropole (Hauts-de-France), is co-financed by the European Commission and the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) ©Ÿnsect

Related tags: Insect, France, Japan, mealworm

French insect protein company Ÿnsect is seeking to enter the Japanese and Korean markets after securing success in a national trade contest and signing a high-profile research partnership.

The firm was founded in 2011, and breeds Buffalo and Molitor mealworms for protein applications in human food and supplements, fish feed, pet food, as well as plant fertiliser.

It currently operates a factory in France for its animal nutrition and fertiliser business and another facility in the Netherlands for human nutrition.

We focus on mealworm because it is easier to industrialise compared to other insects. Mealworms also have a high protein content of about 72% in powder and have a low fat content, whereas beef or chicken can give about 25 to 30% protein​,” said Bruno Grandsard, strategy committee member supporting Ÿnsect’s global development.

Japan and US strategy

The firm has plans to expand in Japan and the US in the human and animal nutrition business.

Ÿnsect’s human nutrition ingredient is a mealworm protein produced under the brand AdalbaPro, as a textured or powder form.

It has worked with several companies in the Netherlands, Austria and Finland to incorporate the powder into their finished products, for instance, isaac uses the powder in its nutritional bars, while Austria’s ZIRP incorporates into burger patties.

The most promising application so far is in sports bars. Athletes are very interested in performance, and they're willing to test out new types of products if they are shown to work​,” Grandsard said.

In late 2021, Ÿnsect was announced as one of the winners of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) contest, targeted at foreign start-ups interested in Japanese collaboration.

It helped increased visibility for the firm in a somewhat new industry in Japan. Japanese retail company MUJI previously released cricket crackers in 2021.

Citing the growing demand for fitness and sports nutrition, Ÿnsect is on the lookout for partners in Japan and US to develop finished products containing AdalbaPro.

We're interested in finding Japanese food companies to partner with to help develop solutions for the Japanese market​,” Grandsard said.

This comes after Ÿnsect announced a partnership with the research division of South Korea retailer Lotte Research & Development Centre.

The two firms will conduct joint research on insects with the aim of developing insect-based/protein food products in South Korea.

AdalbaPro is currently being produced in the Netherlands by Protifarm, which Ÿnsect acquired earlier in 2021.

The new “sushi”

While the firm has set ambitious expansion targets, Grandsard quickly added that the yuck factor for insect food still exists in some markets and it may take decades to be accepted.

He cited sushi as an example, adding it took years for people in the West to overcome feeling squeamish about eating raw fish.

Although more than two billion people worldwide consume some form of insects in their diet, insects are considered novel foods in the EU.

In early 2021, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) authorised yellow mealworms as the first-insect derived food product for human consumption in the European Union (EU). The authorisation under the Novel Food Regulation in 2018 was given to French company Agronutris, which proposed using yellow mealworm as whole, dried insects in the form of snacks.

Ÿnsect has also submitted its novel food application for its insect protein powder.

EFSA has received several insect-related novel food applications and Grandsard anticipates authorisation for more types of insects in 2022.

Animal nutrition

In France, Ÿnsect has raised US$425 million and investing in new facilities. It is in the process of building a new vertical farm which can produce 200,000 tonnes of protein ingredient annually.

Our plan is to have a manufacturing facility in Japan in the next two years or so​.” Discussions are also underway for a manufacturing facility in the US.

According to Grandsard, there is limited insect protein use in the pet food market. However, he believes it has potential to be pitched as a premium and sustainable ingredient. The same applies to fish meal, he added, which is traditionally made up of small fishes like anchovies and then dried and processed into powder, and combined with wheat or corn.

While fish meal is inexpensive, it is not sustainable. When you replace fish meal with insect protein, it offers a more nutritious option, which can positively influence growth rate and survival rate​,” Grandsard explained.

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