It still sounds funny to so many people when I say it, but in a few years, we all probably gonna eat insects as a protein source. We can’t escape it. Insects are rich in high-quality protein, cheap to grow, and more sustainable than traditional meat. It’s no wonder that just last November (2018), the supermarket giant Sainsbury’s, announced its plan to stock a range of edible insects in stores, as customer’s demand for sustainable protein sources increases. So today, one could pay £1.5 for a small bag of BBQ crickets (thanks to EatGrub’s folks) in one of 250 Sainsbury’s supermarkets.
Edible Insects Market
The global edible insects market composed of three main segments: Food, Rearers and Feed, where insects for food dominates 60% of the market.The current edible insects market value is assumed to be more than $400M, and in 5 years its predicted to almost triple itself.
It’s interesting to look at different markets around the globe. For example, in 2018, the value of the ‘Asia — Pacific’ market, where edible insects consumption is more common, was doubled the value of the ‘Latin America’ market ($176M vs. $92M). Europe was in the third place ($82M), followed by the US ($44M) and the Middle East ($14M).
During the next 5 years, the trend is expected to stay the same, however, the value of all of these markets is expected to increase dramatically — more than double their 2018’s value.
Why this market is on the rise?
By 2023 the world population is expected to reach a new record of 8.5 billion people. More people means more mouths to feed, so governments and food companies need to look for new alternatives.
When we are talking about food alternatives we should consider two main criteria: cost and macronutrient quality. From the nutrition perspective, insects bring quite similar values as traditional meat, but, at the same time the cost of production is significantly lower.
First, we should make sure we are comparing apples to apples, or in that case, Animal Protein Source (APS) to another APS.
Land: land is a scarce resource and a significant part of the production costs. In comparison to any other APS, growing insects requires much less farmland. According to statista.com the farmland required to produce 1g of insects protein is 18 sqm, while growing 1g of beef, pork, poultry required 254 sqm, 63 sqm, and 51, respectively.
Water: water is another major expense in the livestock industry. As inland, insects need less water than any other APS.
112 and 57 liters of water are required to produce one gram of protein from beef and pork respectively. One gram of protein from poultry requires 34 liters of water and 31 liters for dairy protein. Insects’ protein needs only 2 liters per one gram of protein. source
Labour: 0.01 hours of labour is the input needed to produce one kg of insects’ protein output. Just to emphasise, for poultry, it’s about 0.7 hours and 0.3 for beef. source
With that said, it worth mentioning that insects nowadays are still quite expensive. The reason for that lies in the most basic economic low — supply and demand. Insects of any kind are still a rare commodity, but as mentioned, this is probably will change in the following years.
Protein is the most important macronutrient to compare in this case. The other macros (fats, carbohydrates and calories) are more easily found in other types of food, even plant-based products. Animal protein quality is higher than plant protein. Therefore, when we look for substitutes, we should compare the protein amount and its quality.
According to the USDA, “There are many advantages to having insects as food. Insects contain more protein and are lower in fat than traditional meats, and contain a number of micronutrients critical for human well-being”.
But the truth is, that the amount of protein from insects is almost similar to that from traditional meat. Depending on the type of the insect, the amount of protein per 100g is between 15g and 35g. Traditional meats as beef, pork and poultry, have an average of 20g protein per 100g product. Also, the quality is similar. One important characteristic of animal protein is that it contains all the essential amino acids. In that sense, insects and traditional meat are the same.
What do consumers think about edible insects?
The consumers’ ‘Taste Test’ is probably the most important criteria for the success of any food product. If people don’t like your product, you would probably need to eat it all by yourself 🙂. With edible insects, the taste is probably not ‘the’ problem (try it once and see by yourself). The first main challenge is people’s perception of insects — as something many would prefer anywhere but their plate. The second challenge is awareness. Even today (2019), many people across the globe are still not aware to the option of consuming insects, and their nutritional and environmental value.
Market research from 2018 found that 18% of the population in the US is not familiar with the practice of consuming edible insects. Also, while 72% of the participants said they would like to try eating edible insects, only 42% said that they had consumed edible insects before.
Another survey made by GlobalData Consumer revealed the challenges the edible insects market is facing. The participants were asked if they think insect protein will have a positive impact on their health. While 21% responded “not familiar with the ingredient”, 17% said that the impact on their health is actually “negative”.