Fly larvae (Rural Development Administration)
But few people seem to find them palatable enough, at least not yet, to include them in their regular diet.
For dogs and cats, it’s a different story.
“Our products are loved by pets because they taste nutty and also love cheese biscuits,” Kim Tae-hoon, CEO of Foody Worm, which sells insect-based pet food, told the Korea Herald.
The entrepreneur said the local market is taking off as more and more people are choosing to feed their pets insect-based foods that are not only high in protein, but have many health benefits.
When Kim started the company in 2016, the idea of feeding insects to pets was not readily accepted by consumers. But now Foody Worm’s products are “the third to fourth best-selling pet foods in stores,” he added.
Another pet food entrepreneur The Korea Herald spoke to could personally attest to the surge in the market.
“It has been a year since we launched our product. Just three months after launch, we exceeded our sales target by 300%,” said Park Jung-hoon, CEO of Wellsome, which produces pet food primarily with fly larvae.
The rise of insects as pet food is associated with the growing trend of humanizing pets here, Kim, Park and market researchers said.
As more and more pet owners treat their dogs and cats like family and try to provide the best for their loved ones, they are looking for higher quality pet food. In 2020, about 67% of pet food sold in Korea was “premium” product, according to the Korea Pet Food Association.
Insect-based foods are considered premium for their health benefits, according to Kim Ki-hyun, head of animal welfare research at the state-run National Institute of Animal Science. .
Oil extracted from fly larvae used to make pet food (National Institute of Animal Science)
Kim’s team found that mealworms were effective in improving skin conditions such as dryness and itching.
“We also found that protein from fly larvae can reduce blood cholesterol levels by 10% when consumed for 12 weeks,” he added.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the local insect-based pet food industry is expected to reach 70.7 billion won ($59.71 million) in by 2030, up from 17 billion won in 2018.
Insect protein as an ingredient not only for pet food, but for animal food in general, is a lucrative industry globally, largely driven by climate action. A Barclays report predicts that the edible insect market will reach $6.3 billion by 2030.
RaboResearch, a Dutch think tank, says demand for insect protein could reach half a million metric tons by 2030, compared to a current market of around 10,000 metric tons.
The South Korean government is helping local businesses capture a share of the growing market. The Ministry of Agriculture has earmarked 360 million won to support insect breeding enterprises here. The government-affiliated National Institute of Animal Science also helps entrepreneurs and pet food companies by sharing their research findings and technology for using insect-based proteins.
It would also help the country reduce its dependence on pet food imports.
South Korea currently gets about 70% of its pet food from imports, according to researcher Kim.
The expert pointed out that the demand for functional pet foods will continue to grow alongside the growing population of obese and elderly pets, hence the need for further research on other diverse edible insects.
By Hong Yoo ([email protected])