Eating Bugs is a F*cked
Over the past couple years you might have read an article or two about eating insects. Maybe even you tried once. But I’m willing to bet you haven’t started pouring them over your granola every day. Eating insects is a novelty and its time in the spotlight is up.
The tastemakers have spoken: Of 1,600 chefs surveyed earlier this year, 71% said that insects are yesterday’s news.
Even the UN appears to be moving on. Their edible insects coordinator retired and no replacement is being brought in for the role.
The world is moving on to the next fad. Insects are left to wiggle within the tiny niche they’ve carved out.
Squashed by Competition
Sure crickets are nutritious and sustainable, but plenty other foods are too. They offer the same benefits without the risk of inducing your gag reflex. A well-balanced mostly vegetarian diet, for example.
And for those of you who can’t give up burgers, have you tried the newest veggie impersonations? They even fool the world’s best chefs. Plus there is lab-created meat, which is coming just around the corner to tantalize our tastebuds and swat away the pesky insects’ tiny market share.
Bottom line: There’s no reason to try something completely unfamiliar when perfectly conventional foods can do the same trick.
Nothing But Buzz
Despite three years of hype, not a single established food company has introduced an insect-containing product.
Only small startups have tried and their sales are almost entirely online to early adopters, far from the mainstream. Indeed, insect products are only available in roughly 2.5% of supermarkets in the US.
What’s more, insects are barely in many “insect-based” products themselves. For example, the 40 crickets in an Exo bar may be large in number, but it’s small in size. Crickets make up only about 6% of a 60-gram bar’s total weight.
Investors haven’t been fooled by the hype. Funding of insect food startups is as tiny as the bugs themselves when compared to the behemoth investments their veggie-based food competitors like Hampton Creek($120 million) and Impossible Foods($182 million) have received.
Sure, market research forecasts are throwing out big numbers (possibly in the interest of selling their $4,000+ reports?), but nobody has put really money (or insects) where their mouth is.
A Bugged-Out Business Model
Besides obvious cultural barriers, the huge issue for those in the insect food industry is that insects are simply not yet economical. Farming remains very manual and thus very expensive. Despite advances and increased scale, wholesale cricket powder is still around $25 a pound. That is more than three times costlier than whey protein or even spirulina.
Compounding the issue is that insects are subject to catastrophic and still poorly understood die-offs that have stopped promising start ups in their tracks.
The insect cuisine industry has a long way to go to reach the scale and pricing of competition. Too long.
Insect food is an interesting concept but, while little bits and pieces may stick, the industry is not likely to grow much more than it has already.
The insect food industry is a caterpillar that turned into an attention-grabbing butterfly, fluttered around a bit… then died.