What’s the latest for insect protein?

16 May 2020

Products developed with a range of novel and alternative proteins have been in the spotlight for several years now – and arguably none are as divisive as those made with protein derived from insects. Here we examine the latest developments in the insect protein market.

In the European Union, the first approvals for edible insects from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) could come as early as this year. This would open the market to an alternative protein source that has been hailed as an answer to increasing protein demand with a lower environmental impact than meat. From a protein efficiency perspective alone, insects require far less protein-rich feed – such as soy flour – for their bodyweight compared to cows, pigs or chickens, and depending on the species, they also are much higher in protein.

What’s the latest for insect protein?
EFSA approval would allow insect-based foods across the EU

Already in the German supermarket chain Kaufland, shoppers can buy sour cream and onion flavoured buffalo worms or garlic and herb flavoured mealworms. In supermarkets across Europe, various insect meals and flours appear in products like pasta, burgers, breakfast cereals and snack bars. Without EU-wide approval, this is possible because individual countries can decide whether to allow the sale of edible insects. However, EFSA approval would take down remaining barriers – although some consider consumer disgust to be the biggest barrier there is.

Stimulated by an Interreg European development fund, and coordinated by Thomas More University in the United States, a new project called ValuSect aims to stimulate agri-food businesses that want to grow the market for insect-based foods in Europe. Interested companies can receive up to €40,000 in services from project partners to develop new products, such as access to consumer tasting panels, optimised insect breeding and improved insect processing.

It is an area that has already attracted a large number of startups across Europe, from UK-based Eat Grub, with its “cricket-powered” energy bars and range of bug-based snacks, to Bugalicious in the Netherlands, which makes snack bars with buffalo worms, nuts, dried fruit and seeds.

Beyond startups, some major manufacturers are getting on board with the trend too. Finnish baker Fazer Mills, for instance, introduced an insect-based bread in November 2017 made with cricket flour blended into its traditional wheat flour. Buehler, with its partner Protix, has invested in a plant to process black soldier flies for animal nutrition in the Netherlands. And major Thailand-based seafood producer Thai Union has partnered with Israeli insect protein company Flying Spark to help develop its insect growing and processing capabilities in Thailand.

For now, many European consumers are still reluctant to try insects, and the ValuSect project itself estimates that only about 30% are willing to eat insect-based food. But this clearly has potential to grow, with certain regions and demographics more open to insect consumption than others.

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