- Thai Union, which produces Chicken of the Sea tuna along with many worldwide brands, made the first investment from its new venture fund in Flying Spark, an Israeli startup producing larval insect protein.
- Flying Spark uses Ceratitis capitata larvae to produce a 70% protein powder that is rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and amino acids, with nearly zero waste. The startup’s production methodology also requires very little water and land resources, creates no methane emissions, and does not use hormones or antibiotics.
- Thai Union’s venture fund has an initial commitment of $30 million and focuses on companies innovating food technologies through alternative protein sources, functional nutrition and value chain technology.
CB Insights estimated 30% of the calories we consume globally come from meat products. With so many calories still coming from animal protein, scientists have warned population growth could lead to an unsustainable increase in food production if consumption patterns persist.
To try and solve this quandary, innovative startups from around the world have begun to investigate alternative protein sources, including from insects. Edible bugs contain high levels of fat, protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber, sometimes at levels similar to red meat or fish. Furthermore, recent research found data showing water-soluble extracts from grasshoppers, silkworms and crickets have an antioxidant capacity five times greater than fresh orange juice.
Although they are undoubtedly good for the body, research indicates Western consumers are unwilling to eat insects. Companies have attempted to change that perception through the years. Seek Food, Chirps, Bitty Foods and Exo Protein are using cricket protein powder in various products. MOM's Organic Market started carrying some insect products in 2017.
Despite a fair amount of interest in the concept, the market's growth is not as fast as some manufacturers need to survive. In August, Utah-based maker of cricket powder Chapul decided to exit the protein bar space. Founder Pat Crowley told Food Navigator he was frustrated by the slow pace of growth in the edible insects segment, and is now concentrating on an insect farming operation in Indonesia.
Asian markets are more likely to welcome insect protein — either for consumers to eat themselves or to feed to livestock. According to Global Market Insights, the global market for edible insects could exceed $522 million by 2023, with beetles, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets making up the greatest potential growth areas.
Thai Union is looking to capture a chunk of this by offering its production capabilities and global supply chain to Flying Spark products. At the same time, Flying Spark will use the investment capital to scale its production in an ecological way.
In any case, Thai Union, which primarily produces canned seafood products, needs to find another product to keep consumers buying its products. During the last 30 years, the consumption of tuna has declined 42%, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data reported by The Wall Street Journal. The company has already tried to mitigate the effects of this decline by getting into the pet food space and doing marine byproduct extraction, like omega-3 fatty acids for supplements.
Investing in insect protein is a step outside of familiar territory for Thai Union, but it could be a lateral move that proves to be profitable. Even if the company cannot convince Americans to eat insects for sustainable nutrition, there are plenty of other markets for the global enterprise to focus on. In Brazil, insect consumption is predicted to surpass $55 million by 2023. In Asia the market is expected to top $270 million in five years, according to Global Marketing Insights.