Insect farming: a bitter pill to swallow
We’ve seen a growing trend in the media stating that “if we want to save the planet, the future of food is insects.” Eating insects supposedly is a good bet to save the world from an agricultural and food crisis in the future as a result of our current eating habits, which are having a strong impact on the climate on a global scale. This leads us to the question: will snacking on insects be common in the near future?
And, could this be why is the edible insects market projected to grow to nearly $8 Billion by 2030, or is it just another trendy fad? Or, are there real reasons to consider adding insects to our diets? It seems food scarcity, climate change, diminishing freshwater bodies, and a growing population that demands an ever-increasing supply of food could lead to a future for alternative sources of food. It could present an opportunity for insects to take to the plate as a long-term, more sustainable option. But that might still not be appetizing for anyone new to the cuisine.
Currently, insects are the largest group of living creatures in the world, with hundreds of edible species. It’s a massive, readily available protein-rich food source. Still, the main challenge for wider adoption is consumer acceptance because of the taboos surrounding bug-eating in western cultures.
The above isn’t something new. Back in the early 1800s, lobsters were fed to prisoners and slaves as it was considered a “poor man’s food,” but nowadays, we’ve come to accept lobsters as a delicacy. This same transformation of our perception of food can be seen more recently when the first sushi restaurants opened their doors outside of Japan. Eating raw fish was foreign to many cultures, but it grew to become one of the most popular international cuisines over time. Even the insect niche is seeing success in some restaurants around the world that serve bugs in their exotic dishes.
With that in mind, the most recent data shows a clear shift in consumer behavior regarding current eating habits. Younger consumers are now more likely to eat less meat and are willing to try new alternative sources of protein that are both healthier and more sustainable for the future. This green trend has already flourished a number of growing businesses in this sector.
On the other hand, some large food producers, distributors, and chain stores like Sprout Farmers Market (NASDAQ: SFM) still haven’t dived head-first into the insect hype, despite being committed to sustainability initiatives. For example, The Kroger Co (NYSE: KR) has been focusing its mission on sustainability and has recently partnered with Impossible Foods to sell plant-based meals to compete against Beyond Meat’s (NASDAQ: BYND) alternative option. Other producers, such as Hormel Foods (NYSE: HRL), stated at one point that they have “researched” insect-based protein. But for all the above companies, not much has been ventured to create insect-based products. So, it might be a while before we commonly see a ‘bug-based patty’ on a barbecue with the family.
In the meantime, there’s no shortage of product lines when it comes to insects. For example, the cricket-based products that are rapidly gaining popularity are protein bars, protein powders, and cooking flour for the benefits of adding extra protein, vitamins, and amino acids to the diet. Still, some retail supermarkets like Sprout Farmers Market (NASDAQ: SFM) have, in the past, stocked a niche supply of cricket protein bars across its stores. But, for now, they’re no longer on the shelves.
So, it’s safe to say this is still a novel trend for western food culture. And, only time (and appetites) will tell if it will one day feature on everyone’s menu.