Athletes, seniors and “entovegans” will drive initial insect protein demand, predicts Agronutris co-founder
Agronutris is the first company to obtain European Commission authorization to market insects for human consumption
11 May 2021 --- EU legislators are gradually carving out a regulatory pathway for the market entry of companies specializing in insect-based ingredients, which are deemed a highly sustainable, nutritious and cost-effective alternative food source.
Member states recently greenlighted French biotech company Agronutris for the marketing of insect-based products intended for human consumption, making it the first company to be authorized to sell food-grade insects on the European market.
Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Agronutris co-founder Cédric Auriol details what this approval signals for the fledgling industry, which he anticipates will see most demand coming from consumers requiring a higher protein intake.
“The insect-based products will be interesting for athletes, flexitarians and the older population. Those three demographics are key since they are looking for qualitative and sustainable proteins, which insects can offer,” says Auriol.
“On the other side, vegans are probably a market that the insect industry won’t be able to address, even though entovegans are a new category of consumers that are emerging.”
Bugs on the table
The regulation grants the possibility of selling yellow mealworm – the larvae of Tenebrio molitor beetles – in whole dehydrated form or in powder, incorporated up to a limit of 10 percent of processed products.
With this move, European supermarkets may soon offer a variety of yellow mealworm-based energy bars, cookies, ready meals and pasta preparations.
“In the coming weeks, we will mainly supply mealworms for niche markets, with first consumption based on new experiences and curiosity with products such as snacks and appetizers,” says Auriol.
“In the coming months, we will start to supply more established markets such as protein bars, prepared dishes or even meat analogs.”
Competing with plant-based proteins?
Consumption of traditional animal-based produce in the US and Europe could be on its way down after hitting a “peak meat” apex in 2025, according to a recent report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Blue Horizon Corporation.
By 2035, the research suggests that every tenth portion of all meat, eggs and dairy products eaten across the globe will be from an alternative protein source.
The race to achieve sustainable alternative proteins at parity with conventional meat places insect-based ingredients in the same ring as plant-based proteins. However, Auriol does not envision nutritious bug ingredients as contenders to soy, peas, chickpeas and other traditional crops.
“We don’t see us as a competitor against plant-based proteins but we believe that insect-based products are complementary to the existing products and offer a very qualitative and sustainable source of nutrients,” he remarks.
Agronutris touts its R&D process of collecting “unprecedented scientific data” on the breeding and processing of yellow mealworms. In accordance with the data protection mechanism provided for in European legislation on Novel Foods, Agronutris benefits from five years of exclusivity to market its products in Europe.
A breakthrough for the entire sector
This authorization follows the filing of a Novel Food application made by Agronutris at the start of 2018 and the favorable opinion of the EFSA obtained in January, which concludes that Tenebrio molitor larvae raised and produced according to the Agronutris process standards is a safe food for human consumption.
This green light is the last step in the authorization process initiated by the company several years ago. The publication of this decision in the European Official Journal in a few weeks will mark its definitive entry into effect.
Since 2018, the new Novel Food regulation has harmonized the marketing authorizations for novel foods at the pan-European level, including insects.
“The green light given by the EU member states represents a major milestone for our company, but also for the insect production sector as a whole,” notes Auriol.
The authorization was recently welcomed by Europe’s insect-based stakeholders gathered under the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF) banner. Insect-producing companies must now seek Agronutris’ agreement for the use of its process in order to comply with the characteristics described in the regulations.
Remaining hurdles on the road to market
Auriol flags that there are still two challenges that the industry needs to tackle. One is the development of insect-based products that are adapted to the consumption habits of the European consumers, which raise the acceptability of these products.
Another is the financial accessibility of the products by a large number of consumers. Auriol flags the current high costs of production is mainly due to the low quantities produced.
“This will obviously change in the short future since the industry is growing fast,” he concedes.
Forward-looking analysis by the Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis forecasts that the weakening stigma surrounding edible bugs will eventually lead to popularized snacks, biscuits, finger foods, pasta and burgers made with the highly nutritious novel food source in the near future.
Tapping into the bug boom
Agronutris’ regulatory win is timely, as the bug-based sector has enjoyed a steady influx of investment in recent months. Last month, ValuSect, a European insect production project, attributed €410,000 (US$419,800) worth in services to 17 small and medium-sized enterprises located in North-West Europe to help it develop its insect-based food business.
Insects’ key role in building more sustainable chicken and aquaculture value chains was recently underscored by Bühler. The company notes this is necessary if the industry is to provide adequate protein to feed the world’s ballooning population.
Last March, the European Commission published its Action Plan for the Development of the Organic Sector with favorable gains for insect producers looking to contribute to diversifying locally sourced protein feed for organic farmers.
And in February, the IPIFF spoke with FoodIngredientsFirst about the advantages of entomophagy, COVID-19 challenges and how European insect producers have managed to recover faster than expected.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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