The Edible Insects DilemmaNovelty vs Nutrition, and why I support the "marketing companies"
When I was in Mexico with Chef Melgarejo, in his presentation about entomofagia (edible insects and other arthropods) he talks about the phases of cultural adoption that Entomophagy will go through.
They are (roughly translated):
When it comes to edible insects and other arthropods like scorpions, spiders, etc, it seems to me that for the most part we’re still squarely in the Novelty phase, where in the west (Europe / North America), the idea of “eating bugs” is just so strange still that to get attention all a person, product, or brand needs to do is simply eat one, or include one in their product.
It’s heavy on hullabaloo and marketing hype, but light on actual nutritional impact.
Getting positive attention is necessary to grow any niche market, but it’s hardly helpful for nutritional needs! And that, more than a sexy-looking insect food, needs to be the point of Entomophagy if it’s going to change the world.
Edible insects need to meet nutritional needs. Not just fill column space because the idea of eating bugs or grubs or creepy-crawlies is new and novel to squeamish westerners.
GOOD MARKETING IS NECESSARY
Now, where I differ from a lot of critics who look at some of these products and exclaim with horror, “but they’re just a marketing company!”, is that I’m a big fan of the companies who are out there blazing a trail.
Much of the criticism I’ve seen has come from people who are also in the industry, but their focus is to change the world, not to get rich. So they’re both envious and intimidated by heavily-financed companies who are currently leading the way.
To those individuals, seeing companies sell insect products that contain no more than 10% insects, or restaurants selling expensive gourmet plates of essentially normal food with an insect dropped on top for effect, it seems disingenuous.
And it is, in some ways. But those entities are also doing the entire Entomophagy movement a huge favor, because they’re moving the needle. They’re getting attention, they’re doing it in a very positive manner, and they’re exposing masses of people to edible insects who probably wouldn’t otherwise be inclined to have any interest whatsoever.
MARKET POTENTIAL = MASSIVE
Why these promotional companies shouldn’t concern anyone with ideas for entering the edible insect space is because the potential for growth in this market over the next 10, 20, 30 years, is astronomical.
As I previously detailed in my 8 Reasons Why Eating Insects Is The Future Of Food article, the population growth, global nutritional needs, and sustainable nature of farming insects will ensure there’s a growing demand for insect products for the rest of our lifetimes.
But someone has to get the word out. Someone has to turn a novelty into a trend, then nurture that trend until it catches fire and becomes ingrained into cultural eating habits.
And that’s usually an expensive process, fraught with pitfalls and high potential for failure and wasting investor money.
A lot of companies will fail for various reasons, or be quickly snapped up by the bigger players in the market, just as happened during the energy drink boom of the early 2000’s, and the coconut water boom of the past decade.
SUPPORT THE TREND BUT INNOVATE FOR HABITS
The way I see it, the companies out there with huge marketing budgets to promote a product that is honestly little more than a novelty, are doing the industry a huge favor.
Because they’re getting positive attention. Sure, Entomophagy is more than just a way to gross out your friends, or do something new and crazy, or to make a quick buck. It’s potentially a sustainable, healthy solution to world hunger!
But we need marketing companies willing to spread the word. Regardless of their products (within reason), regardless of their alleged motives – if they’re bringing people to the entomophagic table and giving them an enjoyable experience, it should be viewed as a net positive.
The goal of every entopreneur in the space should be to learn from what the investor-backed companies are doing, learn from the successes and failures in parallel industries, and then take what is working in terms of novelty and trendiness, and innovate those elements in such a way that they can become cultural dietary habits.
Don’t hate the player, and don’t hate the game, either – just play the game intelligently and there’s a high probability of success, because this is an ever-expanding cricket pie we’re looking at here.
Personally, I love reading stories about new insect-related food products that are coming online. I love the competitive spirit of the community of different individuals who are getting involved in the industry. I’m energized by the insect gold rush of sorts.
I’m not phased by companies spending millions of dollars to gain market share with a product that includes hardly more insects than a typical salad does on accident. They’re doing all of us with interest in edible insects, a huge favor.
So let them do their thing, and hog the headlines for now, while you focus on more important things behind the scenes.
Go innovate. Create a product that is both nutritionally dense, and highly marketable.
Learn everything you possibly can about other bugs – because with more than 2,111 types of edible insects, people are still only focused on about a dozen types!
As Garyvee says, “macro patience, micro speed“. That’s the plan of action that will succeed in the long run.
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