Insect-based pet food may have followed a convoluted path to growth in Southeast Asia. European and American traders promote insects as safe food sources by citing the use of insects by traditional cultures in their cuisines. Trivia about roasted worms purchased in Bangkok can help market insect-based ingredients to Western audiences.
However, upper-class Southeast Asian households tend to avoid insects on their plates, said Leo Wein, founder and CEO of Protenga, producer and processor of black soldier flies. For example, eating insects is not part of an affluent urban lifestyle in Singapore. Southeast Asian pet owners would not be incentivized to accept insects in pet food by references to hardy street food for insects.
By analogy, in the United States, intestines are generally considered a low value food. While tripe is a part of traditional food cultures, especially in rural southern parts of the United States, most people avoid eating digestive organs. Many of these organs then become by-products, which some pet owners have come to reject. Singapore yuppies may avoid crickets for the same reason New York yuppies avoid fried chitlins (foodie hipsters in Brooklyn are not included).
Local traditional use could not be used as a marketing tool for insect-based pet food in Southeast Asia, Wein said. Instead, the promotion and development of insect-based pet food in the United States and Europe has become the benchmark for consumers in Asia. Much of the cultural difference was also in the format in which the insects are presented. While traditional human consumption often involved whole six-legged animals, Western-style entomophagy tends to use processed ingredients made from insect proteins, oils, and other constituents.
Protenga’s black soldier fly larvae are processed into its flagship products Hermet Protein, Hermet Oil, Hermet Frass and the YumGrubs pet food line. Protenga recently raised US$2 million in venture capital. In 2020, Protenga raised funds to build three facilities. Production reacted to installed capacity in 2021. Recent investment will fuel launch of YumGrubs. The funding will also help build a second facility focused on the production of insect protein feedstock.
Protenga will launch a premium wet dog food product YumGrubs this year. The wet dog food lets the nutritional quality of black soldier fly larvae shine through at their best, Wein said. Protenga plans to expand into dry kibble and cat food. Protenga will initially distribute YumGrubs in Singapore and Malaysia, with potential for regional expansion in the United States and Europe. Additionally, Protenga offers co-production services for other pet food brands globally using its Singapore facility.
Protenga will initially distribute YumGrubs in Singapore and Malaysia, with potential for regional expansion in the United States and Europe. Additionally, Protenga offers co-production services for other pet food brands globally using its Singapore facility.
Insect protein sustainability and environmental impact
In Protenga facilities, black soldier flies have lower food and water requirements than cows, chickens or other livestock. A higher volume of protein and oil can be raised on less land with insects compared to mammals or birds. For these reasons, insect-based ingredients can be an environmentally sustainable option. However, many pet foods are made with parts of these two- or four-legged animals that are not consumed by humans. Comparing the ecological ramifications of cattle ranches to those of insect farms is not straightforward. Insects may need less water and food to produce a certain amount of protein than cows. Yet if the nutritious but low-status parts of that cow, such as the hearts, are not used in pet food, these co-products will lose value and could be wasted. Scientists have not fully elucidated these paradoxes of protein durability.
Boosted by their positioning as a sustainable and healthy pet food ingredient, insects continue to gain popularity in pet foods globally. Yet in 2021, when scientists reviewed peer-reviewed research on insect-based ingredients in dog and cat food, they found that only two studies had assessed the effect of insect-based dog food. of insects on the nutritional status and health of dogs and none on cats. The researchers published their review of the scientific literature in the Journal of Insects as Food and Feed.
As with sustainability, pet food marketing praise of insects as a natural part of the ancestral diet of dogs and cats may have to be tempered by evidence. While wild relatives of cats are insect-eaters, they made up less than 5% of their diet in biologists’ observations. Wolves did not eat enough insects to form a significant part of their diet. Although many pet owners have seen their dogs and cats eat a random housefly, that may not mean that mammals evolved to eat insects.
Limited research on insect-based pet food nutrition
Although many pet owners have anecdotal stories of dogs and cats eating insects, scientists have not fully studied the nutritional and health effects of small animals on dogs and cats. However, basic analysis of many insects, such as black soldier fly larvae and crickets, suggests that the tiny animals are packed with protein and other nutrients that dogs and cats can easily digest. For example, silkworms have shown promise as dog food ingredients. Thai scientists fed dogs a diet containing silkworm, house crickets or a control diet with poultry meal. The newspaper Animals published their research.
“All insects are generally good sources of protein, B vitamins and trace minerals,” said Mark Finke, Ph.D., pet nutrition consultant. in a video of pet food forum. “Much of it depends on why they are to be used (what is their primary role in a complete and balanced pet food). Thus, black soldier fly larvae would also be an excellent source of calcium, while that crickets are relatively high in taurine Note that some nutrients can easily be manipulated through the diet, so in some cases general statements should be made with great care.
Insect-based pet foods are still in their infancy, perhaps more so than marketing suggests, Wein said. He sees huge room for improvement for insect-based pet foods and ingredients as consumers increasingly demand sustainable and nutritious products. Insects respond to many other trends that drive consumer behavior beyond environmental and health concerns. Protenga’s system aligns well with the global consumer desire to know their farmers and know their food. An insect farm can encompass all of the rearing, harvesting and processing of arthropods. This allows for great transparency.
Insect-based pet foods and the ingredients that make them up may be all the rage, but they still have a long way to go before they become mainstream.
Eventually, there will be a tipping point, when more people will have heard of insects in pet food than not, Weiss said. That point could be another half-decade away, but cultural and economic forces seem to be encouraging increased use of insect-based pet food ingredients.