Harry Wright’s new range of cleverly packaged spices looks like the kind of artisanal fare found at any food market or deli. But they do have a distinct element: roasted crickets.
“Once you get crickets in with herbs and spices, you can’t taste, see or smell them,” Wright said, adding that “there is none of the ‘bush tucker’ experience — a nod to the hit reality TV show where runners are made to eat the most bugs.” that do not appeal to them.
Wright hopes his company, Short-Horn Super Seasonings, will help change public attitudes toward eating insects, which proponents see as an inevitable solution to the looming global food crisis.
As concerns about the agricultural system’s environmental impact mount, entrepreneurs are rushing to develop new ways to feed the planet’s growing population. Insects are rich in protein and other essential nutrients and can be farmed on a large scale with minimal environmental impact.
The pace of early-stage investments has so far fallen short of that seen in the more glamorous corners of agri-tech, where lab and vegan meat startups have attracted venture capital as well as the public’s interest.
But the hype around insects is growing. Venture capital funding for the sector has been on the rise since 2018, with $210 million in equity investments last year, according to the data group Dealroom.
The largest inflows have been to start-ups focused on feeding livestock, fish and pets.
French company InnovaFeed, which raises black soldier flies, has raised $140 million in its latest funding round. It has a strategic partnership with Cargill to supply fish and animal feed, and even process fly dung for use as fertilizer.
Insects can replace grains, soybeans, fish and vegetable oils in pellets that are fed to animals and fish, providing essential proteins and other nutrients. It can be grown on organic agricultural waste and small amounts of water.
Growing environmental concerns and investments in environmental, social, corporate and modern governance Regulatory approvals Opening the door to greater financing.
But in order to become a human food source in Western markets, insects need to conquer the “pathogen”.
Negative perceptions among consumers in markets that have not traditionally consumed insects has been a major impediment to acceptance and growth, said Alex Frederick, agriculture and food analyst at PitchBook.
If the functional and health benefits of insects are clearly defined, they can play an “important role in food,” said Gorgan Nikolic, an analyst at Rabobank. However, the Bank’s latest report on the sector focused only on the non-human consumption of insects. “We’ve had a lot of our customers say ‘I’m not going to eat it,'” he explained.
Although pet foods are the largest market for insect protein, some manufacturers refuse to use insects. “Most people find insects disgusting and some don’t want their pets to eat them,” Nikolic said.
Rabobank estimates that by 2030, 200,000 tons of insects per year will be used in fish feed, or 0.4 percent of the aqua feed industry, with 150,000 tons used in pet food, which represents 0.5 percent of the total pet food sector. . It predicts that only about 10,000 to 20,000 tons of insects will be used as human food.
But industry insiders believe that insects will play a role bigger role than some analysts expect.
“More people are starting to think about the consequences of their behaviour,” said Kees Arts, founder and CEO of Dutch insect group Protix. He added that someone talking about sustainability 20 years ago was seen as anti-capitalist but now “most young people are thinking about it – I was absolutely amazed how they are looking at every possible solution to help reduce their footprint”.
It is believed that the backlash of insects can be overcome – “If they provide delicious products with less impact, consumers will buy them.”
Some experts say we may have no choice but to eat insects given the risks that climate change, soil erosion, pests and diseases pose to the global agricultural system.
“Consumers in the so-called West will have to incubate insects in their diets, to ensure that their nutrition remains rich in essential amino acids, proteins and essential micronutrients such as iron and calcium,” said Asaf Tzakor, a research associate specializing in food. Security at Cambridge University.
The key, as with Short-Horn seasoning, may be to move away from eating whole insects toward using them as ingredients and additives.
Tzachor believes processed insects can be used in products like pasta, porridge and pies to improve their nutritional profile or act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory. “Black soldier fly granules contain proteins and calcium,” he said. “Mealworm beetles powder contains zinc and essential fatty acids.”
Some executives and investors believe that lower amounts of insect-based human food can be offset by higher value and margins.
The bugs were so, said Eric Arcampo of venture capital firm Astanor, an investor in Ynsect. Nutritious And the ease with which Insect proteins can be digested It means they can be used in food aimed at the elderly and infirm who may struggle with regular products. “These categories are a niche, but it’s a very big niche,” he added, with supplements to a multi-billion dollar industry.
Aside from food and feed, researchers are experimenting with other ways to use insects. Some researchers are looking at using insects’ antibacterial properties to increase the shelf life of food products, while others are looking at their potential role in tackling environmental problems, for example by raising them on wastes such as cardboard and plastic.
While it will take time to develop these technologies into scalable processes that will work commercially, “it’s the capabilities that interest people,” Nikolic said.
The response to Short-Horn’s launch at the start of the year suggests that perceptions are changing.
“We’ve already had 20 percent growth and we have repeat customers,” Wright said. “People were really receptive and that was a huge shock.”