Alternative Proteins

Why aren’t Westerners eating Insects? – By Ryan Harvey

I’d like welcome Ryan Harvey as my guest blogger in this great piece about why Westerners aren’t eating insects and the current and future state of insect protein.

Insects are one of the most promising alternative proteins on the market. With a tiny fraction the emissions and resource usage of conventional livestock, insects are a clear winner. So why aren’t westerners eating insects?

To answer this question, we first need some context. The insect for food market is relatively small, estimated at 276 Million USD while the insect for feed market is worth five times that at 1.5 billion USD (Mordor Market Intelligence, 2019).

The disparity between the two markets amplifies as we look into VC investment, with 1% of the total going to insects as food and 99% going to insects as feed!

Figure 1 VC funding to insect farming/ food start-ups (Insects as feed on left, insects as food on right) (Nanalyze, 2018) (Crunchbase, 2019)

So, what is the data telling us?

Venture capitalists are reluctant to fund insect protein products for human consumption because they believe consumers aren’t ready (Nanalyze, 2019).

A survey of 821 Australians found that 68% had heard of insects as food and 21% had tried it. It was not asked how many people have insects as part of their diet but it can be safely assumed that it is less than 1% (Wilkinson et al 2018).

So, VCs aren’t investing because people aren’t eating insects, but they are slowly waking up to the potential. In contrast, there’s very little chance people will object to the prospect of animals eating insects, hence the strong investment in that sector.

Why aren’t people eating insects?

There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation here, but there are 2 reasons:

  1.  Insects aren’t available to the consumer; because
  2.  Insects are strongly associated with vermin, disease and disgust; which prevents retailers from trying to sell insects, so they’re not available to the consumer!
How can insects as food reach the mainstream?

Clearly, to break the cycle insects need to be introduced to as many people as possible, but how?

The following charts show the results of the abovementioned survey of 821 Australians; showing preferred products and key attributes.

Figure 2 Product preferences, ratings showing Neophobic (afraid of new foods) Neophilic (in favour of new foods) and tried insects before – Consumer willingness to try edible insects and insect-based products 1 = highly unlikely 7 = highly likely Unfavourable insects include spider, cockroach and scorpion.

Figure 3  Factors influencing consumer willingness to eat insects 1 = highly unlikely, 7 = highly likely

The study allows us to draw the following conclusions

  1.  Those who have tried insects in the past are 50% more likely to try insects again (fig 2)
  2.  Insect products with no visible insects are the most acceptable to consumers (fig 2)
  3.  Insect products must taste good above all else (fig 3)
  4.  Insect products must appear familiar, high quality and safe (fig 3)
  5.  75% of Australians who have tried insects are male

All of these marketing methods are aimed at overcoming the fact that Australians feel disgust when considering insects as food.

Products on the market

Chirps Chips do an excellent job of appearing safe, tasty and high quality. The picture of the chip on the packet clearly shows that the product looks nothing like a cricket, which, as shown in figure 2 puts this product in one of the most appealing categories for customers.

 

 

 

Figure 4 (Chirps Chips, 2019)

 

 

Bugsolutely put taste at the forefront of their online marketing, their product has no visible traces of insects and their packaging appears clean and safe. These aspects align well with the findings outlined in figures 2 and 3. Unfortunately, at $6 for a 300g packet, the additional protein isn’t likely to be sufficiently valuable to the every-day customer.

 

Figure 5 (Bugsolutely, 2019)

Takeaways
  1.  Consumers who’ve tried insects are 50% more positive towards eating insects, so the goal should be to convince consumers to try insect products for the first time
  2.  Consumers care about safety, taste, quality and appearance far more than they care about environmental benefits – insect food marketers should focus on these factors
  3.  75% of Australians who’ve tried insects are male – products should target this demographic

Insects are a long way from making a substantial impact on the western food system. With a strongly ingrained bias against the food, western consumers will need a lot of convincing before insect foods become mainstream and deliver the environmental impacts they promise.

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