Old traditions, new ambitions
Many may not know that insect-based protein originated in Thailand, with “entomophagy” or the human consumption of insects as food spanning over 50 edible species that can be eaten throughout of the year. And it’s only fitting that with climate change concerns and a renewed focus on health, this protein source is making a big comeback all over the world, including in its place of origin. As a “cuisine of the world”, Thailand can demonstrate that its diet has a long tradition of including insect and plant protein, in recognition of an important food source that has often been overlooked. The impact of Covid-19 and the focus on improving lifestyles and well-being has brought these two sources of protein into the spotlight, which are gaining popularity for their dual health and environmental benefits ( reduced climate impacts). While a marginal segment of the food sector, plant-based proteins are becoming increasingly mainstream with a range of products flooding grocery stores, while the merits of insect proteins are also increasingly recognized. , including higher protein content than conventional meats and availability in more products. in edible powder form through advanced production techniques to reap the health benefits and reach wider markets.
An emerging cricket powerhouse
With existing use and familiarity, plant and insect-based proteins play to Thailand’s advantages as the country is already a food powerhouse and can play an important role in changing behaviors and attitudes towards options more climate friendly and healthier when it comes to these protein options. . The urgency to address food security issues has become all the more acute with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, which has had spillover effects including increased inflation, including through higher oil and food prices food. The Thai Food Processors Association noted that edible insects and insect-derived protein are likely to see strong export potential in the global market and that Thailand has the technical know-how while pointing out that the Insect farming takes less time compared to other sources. protein and with a much lighter environmental footprint. Thailand’s most important insect export markets are Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam and the country has more than 20,000 traditional cricket farms, which are mainly located in the northeast region. with a total production capacity of more than 7,000 tons. Three Thailand-based companies that have obtained BOI certification and are developing this market are Thai Ento Food Co., Ltd., Siamento Ltd. and Cricket Lab Company Ltd., each producing either protein isolate or cricket concentrate.
Increased credibility and interest
While tofu and tempeh are widely known in Southeast Asia, plant-based proteins are becoming ubiquitous on store shelves for a whole range of products, and consumer acceptance is largely influenced in Thailand by beverages such as as soy, almond and oat milks, while companies are gearing up by offering complementary food offerings to cater to the mass market. PTT, the oil and gas giant, sees a market opportunity after investing in a venture with NR Instant Produce Plc to manufacture plant-based proteins, including “meat alternatives”, adding new ventures that aim to ensure growth in the future. Additionally, Betagro, a major agribusiness player, is moving aggressively by launching its vegan “Meatly” brand to meet demand from flexitarians, vegans and consumers who want to lead healthier lives – and who claim to offer the same satisfying texture and flavor of pork. Investments and interest from large Thai companies provide trust and legitimacy, which can appeal to a wider segment of consumers, especially if the products are comparable in taste, texture and feel to conventional meats, developing the market not only in Thailand but throughout the region and in valuable export markets.
Here to stay – and grow
Insect and plant proteins fall under the Thai government’s overall policy of promoting investment in the food and agriculture sector and supporting a diverse and nutritious high value-added food chain. They also integrate technological and innovation investments in their production. Although it is still early days for these two groups of proteins, all indicators point to very strong growth potential – largely based on changing consumer preferences focused on improving health as well as an emphasis on on the climate, as well as for companies wishing to reduce their carbon footprint and being associated with greener and healthier protein alternatives. Insect-based proteins may have hurdles to overcome, namely the psychological barrier and potential allergy risks. However, its use as a powdered supplement in food and beverages is a way to increase market penetration while overcoming the “ick” factor. And perceptions change especially when considering their powerful nutritional value as a superfood (a good source of fatty acids, rich in minerals and chitin, rich in B vitamins and protein with all nine essential amino acids) , and that insect farming is a form of sustainable agriculture. Insect and plant-based proteins have long been part of the Thai diet, so it is a priority for the BOI to support Thai companies in introducing insect-based protein powders and companies foreigners who see business opportunities given Thailand’s biodiversity, and as plant-based proteins are also incorporating technological innovations that are preparing the market to come full circle for a new generation of consumers in Thai and global markets. .