Chapul, a Utah-based maker of cricket powder for food products, has decided to exit the protein bar space for now and pursue an insect farming operation in Indonesia after its co-packer went out of business, Food Navigator reported. The company could decide to return to bars in the future.
Founder Pat Crowley told the publication he was frustrated by the slow pace of growth in the edible insects segment. Still, he said raising edible insects for use in aquaculture and poultry feed was looking very positive, and that the company's cricket powder is still selling well online.
Crowley said his main focus now will be working with a consortium that helps new insect farming ventures in Indonesia get started. He said construction on the first facility will begin during the third quarter of this year and produce 200,000 tons of larvae annually by 2023. The farming operation will be built on top of organic waste that would otherwise be burned or go to a landfill, he told Food Navigator.
Chapul was founded in 2012, so the company is a U.S. pioneer when it comes to using insects in food products. However, it's been a challenge for the company and others in the sector to move U.S. consumers past the squeamishness elicited by the thought — let alone the reality — of eating insects in any form.
Research indicates Western consumers still haven't become more willing to eat them, whether whole or processed, and they're also reluctant to eat meat from animals fed insects. Whether Chapul will run into that issue with its Indonesian project remains to be seen, although Asian markets are more likely to welcome fish or poultry fed fly larvae.
Cricket powder may be an easier sell than protein cricket bars, so it's understandable Chapul might take the opportunity to move into a more receptive arena rather than try to find another co-packer.
Raising insect larvae for animal feed is a growth area and a potentially lucrative one. A South African company called AgriProtein founded in 2008 is producing black soldier fly larvae as an environmentally friendly and sustainable animal feed alternative to fish meal. It produces insect protein, animal feed made from oil extracted from the larvae and a fertilizer made with a blend of larvae and garden compost.
As Chapul's Crowley points out, insects are a complete protein, and they're also a more sustainable food source for farmed fish than fishmeal and fish oil from wild-caught fish. The key is locating a consistent and sustainable food source for them, he told Food Navigator, which the consortium is working on now.
Edible insects contain high levels of fat, protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber, sometimes at levels similar to red meat or fish. House crickets are said to contain an average of 205 grams of protein per kilogram, compared to 256 for beef. Other insect varieties contain unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, essential amino acids and iron. Recent research found water-soluble extracts of edible grasshoppers, silkworms and crickets have an antioxidant capacity five times greater than fresh orange juice.
Despite the health and sustainability factors, most U.S. consumers remain resistant to eating products containing edible insects. Nevertheless, other manufacturers are still bringing cricket flour products to market. Chirps, Bitty Foods and Exo Protein are using it in various products, and MOM's Organic Market started carrying some products in 2017 containing insects. PepsiCo posted a request on open innovation site NineSights in 2017 seeking novel protein sources, including insect protein, for possible use in snacks and beverages.
Whether food makers will follow Chapul's lead and move away from producing products containing edible insects isn't clear. They may be relegated to lab-grown meat and/or in animal feed in the U.S. — at least until the level of acceptance goes up.
Meanwhile, the global edible insect market seems to be thriving on other continents. According to Global Market Insights, it could exceed $522 million by 2023, with beetles, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets making up the greatest potential growth areas.