The world is facing a crisis on two fronts. Unless you refute over 97% of publishing scientists, you’ll agree that man-made climate change is an urgent problem. Moreover, almost 800 million people already do not have enough food to live active lives, a statistic set to skyrocket as the planet struggles to cope with its booming human population.
Insects have long been a staple of diets in parts of Asia. But while western consumers might not readily pick at a bag of grubs, crickets or spiders, they may combat food shortage or replace other meat products that, according to the U.N., contributes around 14.5% of all human emissions (of which beef comprises 41%).
Plant-based meat alternatives like Beyond Meat and Impossible have already thrilled vegetarians, with lab-grown meat soon to flood supermarkets and restaurants worldwide. But insects are also on the menu—and a growing clique of startups is aiming to corner a market set to be worth almost $1.2bn by 2023, at a CAGR of 23.8% since last year.
Swedish insect-food website Bugburger first created a list of insect startups in 2015, to mark the first World Edible Insect Day. A couple dozen companies featured. This year’s roster comprises 277 brands, in areas like pet food, insect farming and marketing. “Every year new companies are popping up,” writes the site’s Anders Engström. British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s became the country’s first to stock edible insect food in its stores last year. More recently French insect e-store Jimini’s now sells via Carrefour, the world’s third-largest grocery chain with 12,200 stores worldwide.
Venture capitalists are taking note. British/South African brand AgriProtein won $105m in equity and debt last June. This February Parisian firm Ÿnsect scored a $125m funding round to scale up its animal-feed insect farming enterprise, breaking the insect startup funding record. Expect it to be broken again soon.
A host of companies now offer insect-based consumer products to mimic western tastes. Bangkok-based Bugsolutely has garnered much media attention over its cricket fusili, while Swiss firm Essento makes burgers and protein bars from insects.
Neither will enthuse the small-but-growing population of vegans who shun all animal-based products. They make up a small fraction of the estimated 11% of people globally who eat a semi- or full-vegetarian diet, between whom the consumption of insect-based foodstuffs are a bone of contention. But with a need for humans to switch from meat, and a growing food bottleneck, the insect-food industry will feature far more heavily in investors’ portfolios—and plates—in the coming years.