Bugging out: What seafood marketers can learn from edible insects

Published on
July 29, 2015

Where’s the beef?

It’s a question that consumers – specifically those in the United States and Europe – have been asking for as long as beef and red meat have dominated their respective markets. However, with the modern-day dinner plate lending itself more to variety and adventure, eaters haven’t been inquiring about beef as much – in fact, they’re becoming more interested in where the beef isn’t.

Take the most recent report from Technomic, which finds consumers in Canada are developing more of a taste for seafood, vegan and vegetarian options, with species like haddock, prawns and lobster taking over as some of the fastest growing entrée proteins. Although the most preferred proteins for Canadian consumers are still chicken (89 percent), beef (81 percent) and pork (68 percent), analysts couldn’t help but notice a distinct trend among younger consumers to venture past the typical and try something novel.

"Although the most familiar and widely accepted proteins are still top-of-mind, today's consumers, especially younger consumers, are interested in trying new options," said Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights for Technomic, in a news release.

Weikel and Technomic aren’t the only ones to notice this emerging pattern taking hold of Western nations. The Goldin brothers, whose Next Millennium Farms (NMF) is the first of its kind in North America, have balanced the success of their operation almost entirely on the shoulders of this new type of ethical, thrill-seeking consumer. NMF is raking in sales of more than USD 100,000 a month for 2015 – and they’re selling insects.

When an insect farm can convince North American consumers – who have been slow to welcome insects into their diets – to seek protein from a source they’re not used to and prevail, there’s nothing stopping the seafood industry from following suit.

Where cod and crickets relate

As it turns out, seafood and entomophagy (insect-eating) share some striking similarities. For one, a strong selling point for both insects and fish is their nutritional content, which is oft-reported as comparable, if not superior, to that touted by other protein sources. “Cricket protein is as concentrated as that of beef but with less fat and fewer calories, and is rich in calcium, zinc and vitamin B12,” reported CNN Wire in a feature about NMF

Meanwhile, seafood is widely considered one of the best sources for omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, as well as many of the B vitamins that are considered optimal for wellness.

These “alternative proteins” have also been cited by various experts and organizations as having the potential to be a better fit for sustainable farming practices. Professor Ray Hilborn, Ph.D., a fisheries researcher from the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, deduced during a Seafood Summit in Vancouver, B.C. back in 2011 that “ocean fisheries have smaller environmental impacts and use less energy in comparison with meat and poultry, per pound of protein produced.”

Moreover, Chris Mann ,an expert on aquaculture and a director of Environment with The Pew Charitable Trusts, told National Geographic in 2013 that “if we’re going to eat meat we’d be better off eating fish and shellfish than most terrestrial animals.”

Insects, in a similar sense, are considered “five times more efficient at converting food into edible tissue, and when considering this together with their high reproductive rates and quick developmental times, the food conversion efficiency of insects may be 20 times that of cattle,” according to the University of California, Riverside’s Center for Invasive Species Research. They also don’t require a great deal of space to farm, CNN Wire reports, and they can be fed compost. For perspective: The Goldin brothers’ NMF utilizes 5,000 square feet to farm its mealworms and a further 60,000 square feet to farm crickets.

A cyber source of protein

It’s clear that both the seafood and entomophagy industries, with their alleged health and environmental benefits, play on the protein desires of the growing Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability consumer market (LOHAS) – an estimated USD 290 billion (EUR 262.4 billion) U.S. marketplace for goods and services focused on health, the environment, social justice, personal development and sustainable living.

How have entomophagists been able to capture the attention of this target market group? With the help of the internet, of course.

Jarrod Goldin of NMF says that his company often engages with customers of this sort online, whether via social media or through blogging forums: "It's a massive range," Goldin said to CNN Wire. "Grandmothers, culinary groups, teenagers, hippies, people into health and the environment, people who want to play tricks on their friends."

The more you know

It’s a method that the seafood industry – with its array of equally interesting and spiny species – could employ more of and more often to similar effect. A heightened presence on the internet for the seafood industry is necessary in general to boost it among the LOHAS market, which will surely prove to be a key consumer group for alternative protein industries moving forward.

“The increased knowledge of the need for protein in our diet, combined with the desire for variety, has people looking to alternatives to beef, pork and chicken,” Kay Logsdon, Editor in Chief for the FoodChannel.com, told SeafoodSource.

“Safety of seafood and the lack of availability of fresh seafood have been a factor in why Americans have been slower to the seafood table. There is also a lack of knowledge, which access to global thinking via the Internet is changing . New recipes, new and easier ways to fix seafood and an emphasis on it from the suppliers is making a difference.”

The FoodChannel.com, in partnership with Heinz, recently came out with its “Top Ten Sandwich and Salad Trends for 2015,” a list which places seafood as a protein choice as No. 6. Right now, there is a key opportunity for seafood suppliers and restaurants to win over consumers who are moving away from heavier proteins like beef, Logsdon argued.

“As people learn the variety of seafood/fish available and get more comfortable with home preparation, we anticipate a move toward choosing seafood rather than just avoiding beef,” Logsdon said.

No matter where you sit in the alternative proteins sector, sharing the latest buzz on your catch or “crop” is one surefire way to get modern consumers on their tablets and phones to look – and eat—your way.

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