business food

What happened to the edible insect trend?

A few years ago I ran a rather popular series on the blog where I set out to try as many insect-based foods as I could find. If the start-ups were to be believed, there was rising interest in insect foods and it was going to be a big thing. Sustainable, nutritious, tasty, and surely coming to a supermarket near you any day now.

Having sampled the wares for myself, I found that optimism hard to justify. For a start, some of the companies were marketing themselves on their novelty value, which is not a basis for repeat custom. Their products weren’t readily available, and I really had to go looking for things, including driving out to pick up some cricket-based pasta from a farm. They were also fiendishly expensive. You could pay £4 for a handful of snacking crickets, and they honestly wouldn’t be as tasty as a packet of crisps you could buy for 40p.

That’s another thing, and ultimately the most important – a lot of the insect foods I tried weren’t that great. They were okay, and insect foods already face the ‘ick’ factor. They needed to be a lot better than okay if those fledgling companies were going to get a foothold. Looking up those start-ups now, those suspicions proved correct.

    • Cricket falafel – Cornish Edible Insects no longer active
    • Bugsolutely pasta – gone silent
    • Gryllies pesto – no longer active
    • Bug Muscle supplements – gone
    • Grilo insect flour – gone
    • Sens energy bars – no longer active
    • Eat Grub snacking insects – still going
    • Crunchy critters – still going
    • Jimini’s pasta – still going in France
    • Chirps tortilla chips – company still active in US

    Six out of ten of those companies have ceased trading in the five years since I mentioned them. Start-ups have a high failure rate at the best of times, but for UK based companies, there was one particularly big obstacle.

    Growing and processing insects for human consumption was covered by EU regulations, and when the UK hacked itself out of the EU, it also left behind the legal basis for insect based foods. The sector is so small and niche that it was kind of forgotten in the transition. Basically, Brexit accidentally made UK-based insect food companies illegal. They can get an exemption, but that can cost £70-85,000 for scientific tests that certify a food as safe – completely beyond the budgets of most insect food start-ups.

    The Food Standards Authority brought in a stop-gap measure last year to allow companies to keep trading. Those temporary measures expire in December this year, at which point insect foods produced in the UK are illegal again. So good luck raising any finance for your start-up.

    None of this is helped by Conservative politicians who use eating insects in their alarmist anti-climate rhetoric, along with ‘shivering in the dark’ and ‘living in caves’. Conspiracy theorists are slightly obsessed with the idea, with regular scare stories about schools feeding insects to children. Advocating for insect farmers would be a bold move in the Conservative party right now.

    There is some movement elsewhere. Companies based on the continent are faring better, though there’s no sign of a big trend towards eating insects. And it’s different with animal feeds, including pet foods, which to my mind is what we should be looking at first anyway.

    Meanwhile, there’s a regular supply of articles predicting big things for insect foods.




    1. “Six out of ten of those companies have ceased trading in the five years since I mentioned them”

      I think you should stop mentioning them 😜

      Seriously though, the ‘ick’ factor is a fundamental point, and like you say, cost and taste are factors in themselves that affect purchase, so if they are not as good, there’s no motivation to overcome the ick factor.

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