Insects for Dinner: Examining True Potential

November 2020

Finding new alternative sources of protein is a focus to sustainably ensure access to nutritious food for a global population of nine billion in 2040. Dried insects often contain over 50% protein and are part of the diet for almost two billion people worldwide. Meanwhile, in the West, insect meal is emerging as a protein addition in bread, breakfast cereals, snack bars, ice cream, biscuits and milk alternatives. Do insects have the potential to become an important source of protein?

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Key findings

Highest potential found in Thailand and China, but eating insects is a fading food tradition

Asia Pacific has a good climate for insect production, and snacking on whole insects is a traditional occurrence in many parts of the region. However, this tradition is fading along with urbanisation with much of the growing middle class preferring more westernised diets. Branded and packaged insect products attempt to revive insect eating in cities but recent launches remain niche.

The potential use of insects for ingredient protein depends on communicating unique benefits

Pet food, fish feed, sports protein and dry packaged food hold the highest potential for insect-derived ingredient protein, but each category comes with its own set of competitive pressures to be handled. Often it is the squeeze between being less sustainable than plants and not being desirable like animal-based protein sources that causes most consumers to select non-insect options in multi-option surveys.

Target group for insects matches European target group for bars and protein

In general, surveys and experiments have found men to be more accepting of edible insects than women, who instead are slightly more likely to seek out vegan labels. This mirrors how men are more likely to prefer sports protein powder and bars as a protein source, especially in Europe. As such, insect sports protein may find a positioning as the non-whey alternative for men.

Protein source is the main product differentiator in meat substitutes and insects are a novelty

In meat substitutes, the choice of protein source is the biggest product differentiation tool used by producers right now. Insect protein may take a part of this ingredient market simply by positioning its novelty as a unique selling point in Europe and America. Surveys indicate that insects may be able to score points from sensation- seeking consumers, but the products themselves need to be at least as good as the advanced wet extruded plant-based burgers that consumers are getting used to as a standard.


Key findings

The Edible Insect Target Group

The high-protein trend remains strong into 2020
Low acceptability and willingness to pay i n Europe and North America
European target group combining insect acceptance and protein demand
Young males more likely to prefer bars and powders as protein source

Scorecard: Country Potential

Estimating edible insect potential by country using proxy data
Thailand, China and US most attractive for edible insect business
Asian Pacific insect consumption: modernise or fade
Middle East and Africa and Asia Pacific set to drive protein demand
Insects grow faster and more sustainably in a warm climate
The legal approach to insects as food is evolving

Product Launches and Real Applications

Insect protein-based launches more active than ever
Insect sports protein fights on two fronts against whey and soy
Meat substitutes with insect protein have not been successful
For pets: eating insects aligns well with many animals’ natural behaviour
Complete nutrition pet food with insects already available


Low climate impact from growing insects but feed is an issue
Potential applications for insect-based ingredient protein
Potential proteinification uses could threaten long-term profitability
Insect production set to become increasingly price competitive
Summary: top four applications of insect protein


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