Eating Bugs

Insect Protein Demand Growing

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Animal feed is a key growth area for insect protein and is one reason capital continues to pour into the sector. (Chart courtesy of Rabobank 2021)

Given the choice between a ribeye and a handful of mealworms, most people would probably pick the steak. But a new report from RaboResearch by senior analysts Beyhan de Jong and Gorjan Nikolik predicts demand for insect proteins will open up a future of opportunity for those willing to scale up to meet the need.

It's not so much that people will be eating these proteins, although that is some of it. It's more likely that insect protein will increase its share of the animal and aquafeed markets.

The report, "No Longer Crawling: Insect Protein to Come of Age in the 2020s," stressed that "insects are part of the natural diet of most animals; and insect farming is a highly efficient protein production system with a small environmental footprint, requiring less water, less land and less production time compared with other species."

Jong and Nikolik work out of the Netherlands as analysts focused on seafood and alternative proteins. They project demand for insect protein, mainly for use as an animal feed and pet food ingredient, could reach half a million metric tons by 2030, up from today's market of approximately 10,000 metric tons. Growth is also expected in poultry and piglet feeds. Insects, according to the data, contain 50% to 80% protein on a dry matter basis. In addition, insects can be used in a "circular economy," upcycling low-value foods and waste into this high-value protein.

SCALING UP THE SYSTEM

One of the challenges the analysts point to is a lack of scale to produce the volume of insect protein required on a global scale. Today, pet food is the largest market for insect proteins, followed by the aquafeed market. Because of the supply challenges, prices for insect proteins are too expensive by way of comparison to things like fishmeal -- today considered the "price-setting protein source" in the aquafeed market.

Investors are drawn to the idea of insect protein, however, and the report notes the availability of capital to the sector grows each year. Jong and Nikolik reported InnovaFeed entered into a partnership for salmon and shrimp feed with Cargill and announced a production plant in the U.S. through a partnership with ADM.

HUMAN FOOD OPTIONS

Yes, there is an "edible bug industry" for people, too. A report by investment bank Barclays last year predicted that business could be worth $8 billion by 2030, the same year the Rabobank projections are benched on. In 2019, the edible bug market was already close to $1 billion globally.

While most marketers admit that convincing Americans to eat bugs is a tough sell, it's not that unusual in other parts of the world.

The United Nations, for example, has actually been encouraging human consumption of insects as part of a daily diet since 2013. A report, released by its Food and Agricultural Organization, noted there are 1,900 edible insect species on the earth, and with a projected world population of some 9 billion people by the year 2050, current food production will need to nearly double. That's where the bugs come in.

According to that 2013 FAO report, the most commonly consumed insects globally were: beetles (31%), caterpillars (18%), bees/wasps/ants (14%), grasshoppers/locusts/crickets (13%), cicadas/leafhoppers/planthoppers/scale insects/true bugs (10%), termites (3%), dragonflies (3%) and flies (2%).

Fly sandwich anyone?

Victoria Myers can be reached at vicki.myers@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @myersPF

Victoria Myers