Launching an Edible Insect Business, Part III: Product

Part II gave us an idea of the products are currently available in the UK market. We could categorise them thusly:

  1. Insect-based snacks
  2. Unflavoured roasted insects
  3. Insect-derived ingredients

The snacks are insect-based substitutes for foods such as bags of crisps and bags of nuts. Generally they’re low-weight (<35g) and are single-portion. These seem to come in two forms, either flavoured insects by themselves (often crickets), or a more traditional mix of fruits/vegetables with a few insects thrown in (often mealworms).

I believe the rationale behind these two options is twofold: firstly, for customers who are not used to eating insects, it’s “safer” to buy a bag of trail mix with 15% insects, as you’re guaranteed to enjoy 85% of the product, therefore have a lower chance of wasting money; secondly, the insects are the expensive ingredients, so the non-insect ingredients act as filler (for example, a 30g mixed bag and an 8g insect bag are the same price - and some of that 8g is the seasoning mix).

This is a premium product business model:

  • Bag of mix with mealworms (30g, ~15% insect): £2.00 (£67/kg, £444/kg of insects)
  • Bag of flavoured crickets (10g): £2.50 for 1 (£250/kg), £24 for 24 (£100/kg)

Looking at some substitutable products with approximate pricing:

  • Bag of crisps (30g): £1 for 1 (£33/kg), £3.50 for 12 (£10/kg)
  • Bag of popcorn (30g): £1 for 1 (£33/kg)
  • Bag of peanuts (200g): £0.50 (£2.50/kg)
  • Bag of pistachios (200g): £4.00 (£20/kg)
  • Bag of chicken bite snacks (22.5g): £3 for 5 (£27/kg)
  • Bag of beef jerky (60g): £3.00 (£50/kg)

As you can see, the substitutes work out cheaper. Buying in bulk doesn’t bring the costs down much for insects, unlike crisps, and insects are much lighter than nuts, so you get less for the money. Jerky is the closest substitute, as an animal-based high-protein snack, but again, you get more for your money. However, if you want to just eat a small something as a snack, and you’re willing to spend a couple of quid, you might opt for a insect-based snack. Of course, they’re mostly available only online, so not suitable for impulse purchases.

The second option is simply buying a bag of unflavoured, roasted insects. These are mostly used in cooking - they’re small without a strong flavour, so they could be added to salads, soups, almost anything! I would sprinkle some on many things as if they were roasted crispy onion.

Prices depend on the insect and the volume, which bulk buys working out much cheaper. Pricing also varies a lot by supplier - for crickets, the prices are:

  • Eat Grub: 20g for £6 (£300/kg), 1kg for £50
  • Crunchy Critters: a pint (114g) for £17 (£149/kg)
  • Bugvita: 48g for £5.25 (£110/kg), 500g for £35 (£70/kg)

Given this price, they’re not a very good substitute for anything - be it a garnish, add-on, or primary protein:

  • Beef mince 5% (500g): £5.25 (£10.50/kg)
  • Quorn mince (500g): £3.00 (£6/kg)
  • Organic beef filet steak (200g): £8.00 (£40/kg)
  • Cooked chicken breast slices (150g): £3.00 (£20/kg)
  • Organic tofu (300g): £2.00 (£6.66/kg)
  • Crispy onion (100g): £1.60 (£16/kg)

The cheapest batch of crickets is still 25% more than prime steak.

Finally we come to ingredients, mostly flours. Although I don’t think you could make a loaf of bread out of this flour, it could be used for more “general” uses, such as a thickener or bulking agent. The added bonus, of course, is it’s high protein, and, like other flours, has a relatively mild flavour, so could be added to almost anything.

But we still have our usual problem:

  • 1kg cricket flour: £70.00
  • 1kg plain flour: £0.50
  • 1kg coconut flour: £7.00
  • 1kg almond flour: £10.00
  • 1kg chickpea flour: £10.00

These ratios are even worse than the other product types, with 10x to 140x the price of substitutes.

My hypothesis is that larger insects would sell better.

I mentioned this in Part II, but I’ve found (and been told from multiple sources) that crickets in the UK are harvested when they’re still small and young (<1cm). The reason given for this efficiency (they take more food to grow bigger) and taste (apparently larger has a stronger flavour). Another factor is the species - only two species are currently legal(ish) in the UK, and the max they seem to grow to is ~2cm.

However, in Thailand the ones they sell and eat are much bigger - search for images from Khao San Road if you want to see for yourself. Based on my personal experience, they’re also much more satisfying - most people prefer a bag of crisps to a bag of crushed crisp crumbs. Additionally, bigger insects will weigh more, which might help increase the £/kg figure, making them easier to sell.

Another advantage of larger is that it’s an unfulfilled niche in the UK - currently the only options are small creatures or flour.

So, how to do this? Apart from the obvious of raising the crickets until they’re adults, an alternative would be locusts. Two types are legal(ish), and they naturally grow larger than crickets. Some companies mentioned previously do sell them, but they are more expensive than crickets (£125~£500/kg!) - I don’t know why this is at present.

Next time - a go-to-market strategy.