Bugging the question: Asia insect protein sector cite upscaling and negative preconceptions as biggest hurdles
At the recent ThaiFex-Anuga Asia 2022 trade show in Bangkok, the insect protein industry received strong spotlight and interest as a potential alternative protein source, with many related innovations winning awards and in-depth interest from both consumers and businesses from various regions across Asia and the Middle East.
That said, stakeholders within the sector remain well aware that negative consumer perception of insect products is a major milestone to overcome, with firms such as Thailand’s Cric-Co having attempted to tackle this by creating these in a snacking format - cricket-based crispy brownies - to make these more visually appealing to consumers.
However, it would not be possible for all firms within the industry to focus on snack products, as many are looking to insects as a more sustainable source of protein that can potentially replace animal sources – and for this, the development of insect protein powder still seems to be the most efficient solution at this point.
“Adding insect protein powder can increase the nutritional value of food products with traditionally lower nutritional values, such as pastas or dumpling wrappers or even beers,” Global Bugs Asia Strategic Business Development Director Stefan Jarhelm told FoodNavigator-Asia at the show.
“We do know that there is still a ‘disgust’ factor coming into play that consumers associate with eating insects, and we see the use of protein powder as the best way to get around this currently.
“These negative preconceptions can only be managed by both making appealing-looking and tasting products and education, especially on the nutritional benefits.”
This was seconded by Tal Ozeri, the Factory Manager of Israel-based Flying SpArk’s Thailand site.
“Emphasising the nutritional side of things is very important [to winning over consumers] – Getting past that ‘yuck’ feeling and realising that in insect protein like Flying SpArk’s fruit fly larvae there is a lot of nutritional value such as amino acids, iron, magnesium, calcium [will open them up] to a protein source that is really nutrient packed,” he said.
“So it's really the understanding [and educating] so that people can move past that and accept it as a food.”
Jarhelm also emphasised that whilst Asia has such huge potential in terms of production and insect farming, at present the Europeam market is ahead in terms of consumer demand – and despite Asia’s production potential a lack of organized funding and support means that this demand is not being systematically or effectively capitalized.
“We know the main market is currently in Europe, with Japan and the United States also growing, and right now we need to really upscale and grow to produce sufficient volume to meet this demand,” he said.
“Thailand is one of the largest countries in the world when it comes to cricket farming [with some] 20,000 local small farms in Thailand - but taking the step from being a small farm up to a large one that is able to export globally takes a lot more than just farming and processing, it needs] funding and coordinated support.”
Future is bright
That said, both remain extremely confident that the future of insect protein is bright, riding on increasing demand for alternative protein as well as health and nutrition demands in the region.
“The insect protein industry has already been growing for some time, but the focus for the last three or four years has been on animal feed and using black soldier flies for this – now is the time that the movement into human consumption is really growing,” said Jarhelm.
“We have already been seeing an increase in demand from large companies wanting insect protein to put into their products to improve the nutritional profile – so I am confident that the future is positive.”
Ozeri added that the relative newness of the industry is why awareness is still low, and that it is only a matter of time and education for this to go mainstream.
“Once it goes mainstream and people understand that this is a really good source of food, then I believe that the industry will boom,” he said.
“It's still a fairly new industry, no one looked at insects as a real alternative protein source before – so the chicken farming industry or beef or pork have been around for decades, [but] we actually are reinventing the wheel, reinventing an industry and I believe in the next decade we will be seeing a lot of improvements [that drive its development further].”