Entomophagy: Insects as Food

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Entomophagy — the consumption of insects by humans — is an ancient practice that has fallen out of favor in some cultures in recent millennia. Yet insects (and some arachnids) are gaining new attention as a food source.

While eating insects is actually widespread in the world, it is now being noticed in World 1 by niche groups, governments, and environmental advocates. This new attention could be a weak signal of a more prominent role for entomophagy in people’s diets in coming years.

In fact, there are an estimated 1,400–2,000 species of edible insects. They are eaten roasted, fried, boiled, or raw, in larval, or adult forms.

3 KEY FINDINGS

  • Entomophagy, the eating of insects, is widespread, occurring in 130 countries around the world.
  • Insect protein is viewed as a potential weapon against hunger and the environmental impacts of agriculture.
  • In the Western world, insects as food are getting more attention from governments and from cutting-edge food enthusiasts.

3 CHALLENGES

  • Cultural barriers. By tradition, European cultures and their offshoots are averse to the idea of consuming insects. Starbucks decided in 2012 to change its recipes after popular reaction to the disclosure that some included a commonly used insect-based food-coloring agent derived from the cochineal, a small insect found in Mexico and South America.
  • Slow change. Food habits are learned early in life and persist for decades, so early exposure is the best way for people to learn to like foods.
  • Efficiency and safety. Except for silkworms and bees, industrial-scale methods for raising and harvesting insects are mostly lacking. Certainly, methods for safe insect production are needed, for instance for prevention of microbial contamination.

3 BUSINESS IMPLICATIONS

  1. As a consumer trend, entomophagy is more in the “weak signal” phase than on a clearly rising adoption curve. Organizations in food and beverage may consider exploratory activities such as sampling emerging market offerings, studying potential applications, etc., but all decisions should be made with the understanding that this is still a niche trend.
  2. As the Starbucks problem with cochineal illustrates, this is a topic that should be approached gingerly in any market. Monitoring for further developments may be sufficient for most organizations at this time.
  3. This trend may remain concentrated in World 2, as familiarity, price, protein demands, and a modernizing food industry combine to promote entomophagy. Organizations looking for ideas and inspiration related to this trend will need to track the activities of World 2 companies and consumers — as well as those in World 1 beginning to experiment with entomophagy.