- Western consumers are still unwilling to eat insects, whether whole or processed, and also are reluctant to eat meat from animals fed insects, according to research from Wageningen University in The Netherlands.
- Researchers asked 2,654 consumers about eating insects in different forms: whole, freeze dried, fried, or processed into a product. Lead researcher Muriel Verain found little difference between reactions to the four products, and only half were willing to try them at all. Consumers also thought hamburgers made from the meat of cattle that had been fed insects would be harder to prepare, less safe and not as tasty.
- “There's still a long way to go as far as insect consumption is concerned,” Verain said. “I would think eating insects is certainly an option for cattle feed in the short term. In the long term, invisibly processing insects into products instead of using whole, visible ones seems the best step toward getting people into insects.”
Many manufacturers working with insects have tried to normalize insect consumption for western consumers by processing crickets, mealworms or locusts into flours before using them to boost protein in familiar products such as bars and brownies. It's surprising that participants in this latest study had similar reactions to insects processed into foods as they did to whole insects. Efforts to beat consumers’ disgust may need more work than previously thought.
This may be part of the reason why insect-containing foods are still a tiny niche. Exo Inc of Brooklyn, New York, and Chapul of Salt Lake City, Utah, are two of about 25 U.S. and Canadian food manufacturers currently using cricket powder in food products.
Insect use in animal feed arguably requires less of a leap for consumers. The Food and Drug Administration and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency last year approved the use of dried black soldier fly larvae as feed for fish and poultry. Supporters of the idea point out that insects are an important part of the diet of poultry and fish in the wild, and they offer a sustainable alternative to resource-intensive feed ingredients like fishmeal, fish oil, soybean meal, palm kernel oil and coconut oil.
Given that the realities of factory farmed animals are already largely hidden from public view – or avoided by consumers – many may not care about insects in animal feed as much as the Wageningen study suggests. Marketing that plays up sustainability and the ‘back to nature’ aspect of animals eating insects could help overcome remaining concerns. It is also worth bearing in mind that with global meat demand on the rise, the price of inputs also is rising. If meat from animals fed insects is significantly cheaper to produce – as is expected – then its lower price may increase its palatability.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says the biggest challenge for insect ingredients is consumer acceptance.The FAO claims that disgust can be overcome relatively quickly, saying the rapid acceptance of raw fish in the form of sushi is a good example. Around two billion people around the world already regularly eat insects. Wide-spread bug consumption still has a ways to go, at least in the U.S., but there is evidence its acceptance could one day become reality for many people.