Regulatory renaissance: APAC insect protein sector has ‘much to learn’ from plant-based products

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

The insect protein sector in Asia Pacific still has ‘much to learn’ from its plant-based counterpart. ©Getty Images
The insect protein sector in Asia Pacific still has ‘much to learn’ from its plant-based counterpart. ©Getty Images

Related tags regulations Insect protein plant-based

The insect protein sector in Asia Pacific still has ‘much to learn’ from its plant-based counterpart when it comes to the development of regulations and policies palatable to both governments and consumers in the region.

Although there are multiple markets in the APAC region that have already approved insect protein for human consumption, the fact that the category as a whole has yet to take off commercially means there are still areas where improvements are needed, according to industry experts.

One of these is in terms of policy structure, product governance and also government education and support.

But industry insiders say the sector lags behind the plant-based and even cultivated meat categories.

“Asia does have markets with these regulations in places such as China and Thailand and Vietnam is also looking at this – the issue now is in terms of consumer perception of these policies,”​ FlyFeed Co-Founder and CEO Arseniy Olkhovskiy told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“That said, there is no doubt that this has not reached [a state of maturity] in most markets compared to say Europe where there are very strict controls, and we believe there is still a long way to go here.

“This market has much to learn from plant-based products, particularly plant-based meat, as there’s a lot of gray areas to be addressed such as product labelling on the products and how industry can make it clear for consumers in terms of what the end-product they are buying is made from, yet ensure that this is done tactfully enough.

“There is also still a long way to go in terms of health and safety regulations, particularly where insect protein is concerned due to the additional cultural or emotional feelings of resistance that may come initially.

“But at the end of the day it's important to focus on the fundamentals, because fundamentally insect products are definitely an important way to offer people the scalable, healthy and tasty proteins they need right now.”

He also highlighted the crucial role technology is going to play in this sector, lamenting a current lack of proper expertise in the insect protein industry.

“The technology is really the main driver for us to develop and ship insect protein products to the final consumers – at this stage I would consider it even more important than the contracts or even the construction traction we are seeing right now,”​ he said.

“But right now we are facing the challenge of not even just a manpower shortage but more of an intelligence power shortage, because insect farming and product innovation is such a novel industry and so young that there are not that many people globally who have that experience or expertise.

“In other industries we would be looking at choosing from say thousands or tens of thousands of talented engineers in the sphere – but for us, there are maybe just about a hundred or more in the world to work with, and they are spread globally.

“But at the end of the day we’ve been through a lot of technologies from more familiar territories such as plant-based proteins, cultivated meat, bacteria, mushrooms, and so on, and we are sticking with insect protein because although it may not sound as steampunk or as futuristic as many others, it's absolutely superior on all the levels to other technologies in terms of solving the world’s problems.”

Preaching sustainability not the way

One other potential learning insect protein can take from the plant-based sector is to seek out a different value proposition to appeal to consumers as opposed to the sustainability messaging, as this simple has not worked for the latter.

“One major difference between Asia and other regions such as Europe when it comes to insect consumption is the driver for this – Europe is the largest consumer right now and the biggest driver there is sustainability, but this is not messaging that can work as-is in Asia,”​ Olkhovskiy added.

“[This was the same with plant-based] so we know that the strategy has to be refined – yet researchers are now also finding that many younger consumers here are absolutely fine with insects being used as raw materials in products, e.g protein bars using insect protein flour, when marketed as a healthy product.

“The main driver in this region will likely be making product values stronger by first lower prices, then also not forcing consumers to change any consumption patterns but giving them that higher nutritional value at a more affordable and accessible price point.”

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