Insects could fly us to greener food system
Fancy a bug burger? No? You might want to reconsider. With our food system stuck between how to produce less waste, but also more protein, insects have emerged as a more sustainable source of nutrition and a possible replacement for grains, soybeans, fish, both in human food and animal feed, the Financial Times reports. Growing environmental concerns and the rise of ESG investments have led entrepreneurs to pour their money into this unconventional market to produce animal feed, pet food and fertilizer with the least environmental impact.
The sector is growing slowly but surely: By 2030, 200k tonnes of insects annually will be used in fish feed, or 0.4% of the aquafeed industry, with 150k tonnes used in pet food, accounting for 0.5% of the total pet food sector, based on estimates by Dutch financial services company Rabobank. It expects only about 10k-20k tonnes of insects will be used for human food by then.
The sector has been attracting venture capital investments since 2018, with USD 210 mn worth of equity funding recorded in 2020 — mostly channeled to startups supplying feed for livestock, fish and pets, according to data group Dealroom. French producer of animal and plant nutrition InnovaFeed. The company, which raises black soldier flies for use in animal feed and fertilizer, landed last year a USD 140 mn investment while also securing a strategic partnership with US food corporation Cargill. French startup Ynsect, which transforms insects (mainly mealworms) into proteins for animals and fertilizer, last year raised more than USD 350 mn in equity and debt to scale up its production of beetle mealworm.
But some people are turning their noses up at crickets for their cats and dogs: “Most people find insects disgusting and some don’t want their pets eating them,” said Gorjan Nikolik, an analyst at Rabobank who has studied the market. This has led some manufacturers to refuse to use insects as an ingredient, though the pet food market still accounts for the largest share of demand for insect protein.
Widespread adoption will mean getting over the yuck factor: Insects aren’t widely perceived as a human food source due to the negative psychological and cultural perception in markets that haven’t traditionally consumed insects. But startups in the western world, from Germany to the UK, have been tapping into the market, promising to produce delicious, juicy, and totally not creepy crawly snacks from various insects for human consumption.
Insects could be more subtly integrated into our foods: Short-Horn, a UK-based company which offers insect-infused seasonings, has already grown 20% since its launch this year, and attracted a number of repeat customers, its founders said. Insects could be better used as ingredients and additives, instead of as complete food products, and integrated into processed food products such as pasta, porridge and pancakes to enhance their nutritional profile. Given their ease of digestion and nutritiousness, insect proteins could be used in food aimed at the elderly, and those who struggle with mainstream products.
And the environmental benefits could still sway some consumers: If businesses introduce tasty products with a lower footprint then consumer perception could change. “Most young people are thinking about [sustainability]— I’m just blown away by how they are looking at every possible solution to help reduce their footprint,” said Kees Aarts, founder of Dutch insect-rearing company Protix. Some experts say that people may eventually be obliged to consume insects due to the risks posed by climate change, soil erosion, pests and disease to the global agricultural system. Consumers in the west may have to add insects as an alternative protein source in their diets, to ensure their nutrition remains rich with essential amino acids.
Our Take? We’re sure whatever insect fare is on offer is both good for the planet, and good for us. So Hakuna Matata, we’d give it a go.