Insect protein: hype or hope for the future of pet food?

Insect proteins have been all the rage in the pet food and human nutrition world for several years. Although still a nascent category of pet food ingredients – according to Mintel data, insect protein claims account for less than 1% of global pet food product launches. company – its potential to serve as an alternative source of protein, alleviating shortages of other protein ingredients as well as promising to be more sustainable, has attracted a lot of attention, curiosity, investment, research and media coverage ( including through this website and our related publications and conferences).

What is the potential of the category? Is all this attention, however exaggerated, justified, or are insect proteins destined to be just a fad?

Why so many people are bullish on insect protein

I confess to being intrigued, if not optimistic, by insect proteins. It just seems to tick so many boxes, especially when it comes to durability. In addition to using far less land, water and other resources than traditional animal protein, most commercially raised insects are fed with “recycled” materials from the human food supply chain, for example, products after their date of sale or parts of fruits, vegetables and other foods. generally not sold or consumed by humans.

Additionally, research on the nutritional benefits and safety levels of insect protein for pets is growing, showing good results in terms of palatability, digestibility and safety, according to the study results presented. by Brad Ewankiw, Product Line Manager, Power, for buriedduring Pet Food Forum 2022. These data were specific to black soldier fly larvae (BSFL), but similar research is ongoing and published on cricket and mealworm proteins.

As for the so-called yuck factor – the belief that people in Western cultures are unaccustomed to eating insects and put off by the idea, and with humanization this attitude may well extend to what they feed their pets – it may be in decline. Ewankiw’s presentation also included the results of an Enterra survey of North American pet owners: 55% were very or somewhat interested in purchasing pet food containing protein. insects after receiving a brief training on it (compared to 42% of pre-education), compared to 36% and 23%, respectively, in 2020.

Similarly, at Petfood Forum Europe 2022, Kate Vlietstra, Associate Director for Mintel food and drinkreported that 36% of UK pet food shoppers now say they would be interested in food containing insect protein, up from 21% in just three years.

After all, insect protein is usually incorporated into pet foods and treated as a meal or oil similar to other meals and oils traditionally used. The same goes for human food; one of my first encounters with insect protein was trying a granola bar made with cricket powder at IFT Annual Event and Exhibition A few years ago. Additionally, many dogs and cats eat the insects they encounter whole!

Enter the skeptics

However, not everyone is convinced by the potential of insect proteins. During Interzoo 2022, I spoke (officially) with the executive of a US pet food and products company who said he doesn’t foresee this category ever reaching mass adoption or commercial success (despite all the insect protein foods and treats on display at the Interzoo). In his view, by the time enough pet owners accept it and production reaches the scale necessary for the category to gain market traction, it will have been supplanted by something else. His bet is on cultured or lab-grown meat.

In addition to pet food and human food, insect proteins are also being studied and developed as livestock feed, and experts in this field are also expressing skepticism. For example, Ioannis Mavromichalis, Ph.D., animal nutritionist and director of Aniston Nutrition Consulting Internationalrecently wrote about that he thinks that breeding insects, although a good idea, will not succeed in the long term. (Note: Feed Strategy is also owned by Watt Global Media, parent company of Petfood Industry.)

“I tend to think that insect farming becomes a good concept that will fail on the business side, like so many others,” he wrote. The “others” he referred to are other alternative protein sources that have proven, or seem destined, to be fads.

He clarified: “Some experts believe that the whole concept of insect farming is just a fad that will pass soon as it has been pushed mainly by political/social interests and not by any real support for the agriculture. Some even take it a step further by comparing insect farming to lab-grown meat equivalents, or even plant-based imitation meat products. The idea is that all of these concepts are tied to fashion / time and will soon disappear like so many other interesting ideas.

Meet current and future needs

Mavromichalis and other animal and pet food experts may be right. My view is that insect protein is more likely to succeed, including in the hearts and minds of consumers, than lab-grown meat, in part because the very term “lab-grown” ) seems off-putting, more so than the idea of ​​eating insects, at least to me. As for plant proteins, whether incorporated into products with other ingredients or used as an imitation of meat products, they have been around for quite some time, at least as a niche category, long before their recent rise in popularity. Just ask any lifelong vegetarian or vegan. (Or someone like me who is willing to try different types of food; I’ve been eating plant-based burgers for years.)

At this point, I think all of these alternative sources of protein – insects, plants, lab-grown, and others not covered here (algae, fungi, etc.) – deserve a chance via the research, funding, and attention that they currently receive. The bottom line is that the world’s population needs more sources of protein for humans and animals, and the world itself needs relief from climate change, so let’s keep looking for ways to meet those needs.