Two major European retailers have started to stock edible, insect-based food, a sign a growing number of consumers are starting to accept the idea of eating the likes of crickets and mealworms. Simon Creasey looks at the scope of the market so far, consumer interest in the products and what the outlook for the sector could be.

Francesco Majno first tried eating scorpions and tarantulas while he was on holiday in Thailand. It was – as Majno quips – “love at first bite”.

Majno, who went on to create insect-based food brand Crické is not the only person to be bitten by the edible insect bug.

It is a rapidly growing food category that is increasingly becoming mainstream. Just last month Carrefour started stocking edible insect-based products like spicy chilli buffalo worms and energy bars made from dark chocolate and crickets from a company called Jimini’s in its Spanish stores and this month SOK – one of Finland’s largest supermarket groups – rolled out products from UK-based edible insect food brand Eat Grub in 400 of its stores.

How big could this nascent food category get, which global markets are ripe for exploitation and what are the biggest challenges edible insect-based food brands need to overcome among mainstream consumers?

Using insects as a source of food clearly is not a new phenomenon. More than two billion people globally currently eat insects such as caterpillars, termites and crickets in countries like Thailand and Mexico. However, in recent years insects have increasingly been eaten by western consumers for a host of different reasons. Firstly, there are a growing number of people who are more well-travelled than previous generations and as a result they are increasingly willing to try new things – especially millennials.

The popularity of insects as a food source is also being fuelled by growing consumer awareness of issues surrounding the impact factory farming is having on the welfare of animals and on the wider environment. By contrast, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, insects have a much higher food conversion rate than conventional livestock.

Description: Carrefour has listed range of snacks in SpainFor instance, the FAO estimates “crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein”. They also emit fewer greenhouse gases and ammonia than conventional livestock and they can be grown on organic waste.

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