Edible Insects: An industry with lots of legs!

Whilst discussing aspects of The Bug Shack’s business model with fellow entrepreneurs at the University of Southampton Science Park, SETsquared Director David Bream said something very interesting:

‘Jenny, I’m convinced this bug industry has got a lot of legs’

Though it’s a great pun, what David meant was that there are a huge number of reasons why people might want to start eating insects. I talk about these quite often, so decided to materialise them in the form of an infographic. I have a couple of new diagrams that I will be testing out on fellow researchers and science enthusiasts at Researchers’ Cafe tonight at Mettrick’s Southampton.

Many legs of edible insects

Engaging expert researchers in discussions on entomophagy

Dr Jenny Josephs from The Bug Shack will be taking part in a Researchers’ Cafe event at Mettricks next Wednesday 10th (Southampton, UK). She will be talking to PhD students from different disciplines about their thoughts about edible insects. It’s an industry that requires expertise from biologists, engineers, lawyers, nutritionists, designers and psychologists, to name just a few!

There will also be discussions about biomedical engineering and cryogenics and superconductivity. Come along for an informal chat :D

Find out more about Researchers’ Cafe.

A little help from some ento-preneurs

Last week I was invited to give a talk for Fish on Toast, Southampton University’s Entrepreneurial society.

The purpose was to introduce business planning by using the Business Model Canvas, which I have been taught on myself. It was also a good opportunity to talk to students about all of the opportunities that are available at the university: business coaching, training sessions, Excel placements, consultancy placements and the Take Off competition (which I have won twice). Not to mention the USSP Catalyst Centre, a business incubation program where The Bug Shack was accepted for business coaching.

 

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Some of the hand outs at Fish on Toast

I gave a short presentation to sell the idea of insects as the future of food and farming:

  • They are very nutritious, being high in protein, whilst also providing calcium, iron and all essential amino acids (crickets).
  • They appeal to people who are welfare conscious, as insects do not require as much space as cattle or poultry (which are often intensively farmed, in poor conditions).
  • There are numerous environmental benefits, including minimal land use, low carbon emissions, low water and a great feed conversion ratio (you need ten times more feed to get a kilogram of beef than you do for a kilogram of crickets, plus less of the cricket is wasted).
  • Insects may also prove cost effective, since the savings in land, water and feed may also equate to lest cost in resources!
  • I made the argument that insects aren’t really disgusting, since we already eat prawns that eat carcasses at the bottom of the sea; we already eat ugly, leggy lobsters; we already eat burgers and chicken nuggets that contain unknown parts of animals (rather than being made of steak like we might imagine)! I persuaded the crowd that people will eat anything if they will eat turkey dinosaurs and doner kebabs.
  • I told my audience that 80% of the world’s nations already eat insects, that insect products are predicted to be in the supermarkets within ten years; articles about edible insects pop up in the news every day, including The Guardian and the BBC (in fact, some people are getting fed up with edible insects being covered too often in the media)!

I think I succeeded in selling the idea to my students. I then asked them to think about who they would sell to, what they would sell and how they would provide value for the customer. I asked them to work out how they would sell the product and how it could be marketed. They were asked to consider who would be the suppliers and who might be key partners. The students were given the option of (hypothetically) buying low cost products (dried insects) versus high cost (fresh insects) and how this would affect the price.

The young entrepreneurs got to work filling in a business model canvas, in groups of 3. After a very short 40 minutes, they presented their plan to the judges from Fish on Toast, and myself.

Ideas included:

  • Specialist restaurants and shops
  • Protein shakes and bars, for people on the go or people who love the gym
  • Pet food
  • Insect flour for specialist markets

As a group, we also thought that celebrity endorsements were a great idea (one suggested Ant and Dec!), YouTube and Facebook were great ways to gain publicity and interest. Creative names and thoughtful marketing were ways of making a unique product. Some students said they would make use of specialist skills by researchers at the university, to create a competitive edge and superior product.

One of the students was annoyed by the task, as he said I had neglected the fact that people don’t want to eat insects, which he said that was the biggest problem. I quite often talk to people about this issue, and my response is always that ‘you would be surprised about how many people are willing to try’.

To prove it, I asked for a show of hands at the end of the session: out of the 40 people in the room, ‘who wouldn’t try insects’? Four people put their hands up, 3 of whom were vegetarian. When asked ‘who isn’t sure about whether they would try insects’? One person put their hand up.

As always, I left the event feeling convinced that it won’t be long until edible insects are commonplace in the UK.

 

 

 

Cafe Scientific

Last night’s talk was a lot of fun! I was told to expect about 20 to 40 people, but ended up getting at least 50.

A show of hands at the end of the night revealed that 90% of those attending tried the mealworm snacks I brought to try. I had one very disappointed customer (a chef) who was unable to try my snacks as he was allergic to shellfish (people who have this allergy are often allergic to insects as well).

I had a very engaged audience from backgrounds ranging from civil engineering to biomedical sciences and clinical neurophysiology.

Some great questions were asked at the end and I will attempt to compile these in a future post.

Now I am off to cook several insect dishes for my pop-up shop at the University of Southampton tomorrow.

 

 

Upcoming event!

I will be giving a talk for Cafe Scientific at The South Western Arms, Southampton on 9th June. All are welcome to attend!

Here’s a link to the Facebook event

Edible Insects: The future of food and farming – Dr Jenny Josephs from the University of Southampton will talk to you
about why she thinks insects might be a part of your diet in the near future, and also provides some crispy crickets for you to enjoy.

 

Other quick snaps from the Insect Conference

Some chapulines (grasshoppers), often eaten in Mexico

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Part of Jakub’s (Third Millennium Farming) fantastic cricket farm.

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I really want one of these!

 

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We took a trip to Vivara, a company who sells insects for wild bird food.

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It’s nice to know that there are lots of uses for insects! Image

 

We also took a trip to the Feed Design Lab, where they are working on using insect protein for animal feed. This was definitely an eye opener for someone like me, who has no experience in mainstream agriculture and has never been inside a manufacturing plant!

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Conference dinner cooked by Nordic Food Lab

Though the main part of the conference dinner was fairly traditional, we all had a fantastic introduction from the guys from Nordic Food Lab. They provided several innovative dishes which I think amazed the crowd.

Some wasp larvae in a sour but fruity jelly

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Locust salad! These were pretty big locusts and I was pleasantly surprised by the texture. Legs and wings removed as these aren’t as easy to digest.

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Insects to Feed the World

From 14th-17 May 2014 I was lucky to attend the conference Insects to Feed the World in Ede, The Netherlands.

Here we were 450 people from 45 countries, all gathered to talk and share our research, business ideas and challenges faced in the edible insects sector.

Here’s a picture from the opening of the conference. The atmosphere was electric as the whole audience was excited about all of the talks that were to come over the following days.

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I met a whole host of people from entrepreneurs, architects, PhD students in sustainability and biology to experts in agriculture and EU policy makers.

Over the course of the conference we talked about:

  • The challenge of the ‘yuck’ factor when trying to encourage people to eat insects
  • Introducing edible insects in countries where sustainable sources of protein are scarce
  • Testing the safety of new species of edible insects (e.g. pathogens)
  • Changing EU (and worldwide) legislation to make it easier to breed insects for human consumption.

But, on to the fun bit!…

Our hosts kindly prepared lots of interesting appetisers for us to try during the breaks and I got to take a few pictures of them when I wasn’t busy networking.

Freshly cooked mealworm balls! I would like to try and make these myself, as they are easy to hand out and won’t be a problem for people who are squeamish about seeing legs. Meaty and nutty.

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Quiche with a mealworm topping. They have quite a subtle taste, but add a nice crunch :)

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It looks like everything I ate was made of mealworms, but actually I tried some silk worms cooked in soy and mirin, plus some crickets, locust salad, several dishes with wasp larvae….I was too busy eating them to take pictures!

 

 

Bug Eaters at Environmental Rock

On Monday 5th May 2014 I took a selection of home cooked insects to The Hobbit pub, Southampton, to see what the locals thought about trying edible insects.

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I had a selection of things for people to try, from Cajun crickets to soy sauce or jerk mealworms. It’s possible that people who are allergic to shellfish might also be allergic to insects, so everything was clearly labelled:

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The bugs were marinated before being oven roasted.

I chose small crickets as they are easy to eat!

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I was generally really surprised at the positive reaction from visitors to the stall. About 90% of people tried some (some were reluctant and stood and watched from a distance several times before being brave enough to try). A few people said ‘Yuck! That’s disgusting’, but I noticed that one of the people from their group slyly stopped by to try some mealworms later on. I also had a very keen 3 year old who kept coming back for more with her dad.

Some people told me that they are usually vegetarian but thought that eating insects was OK and gave them a try.

I was later invited to talk about my project at Dangerous Ideas Southampton with several other local people who are involved in food initiatives.

 

 

Updates to come

I’m currently updating the page off line but some posts will appear by Monday 2nd June on:

 

  • Environmental Rock
  • Insects to Feed the World
  • Mealworm farm
  • Feed Design Lab
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