There’s a lot of hype around insects as a healthy, sustainable source of protein, but are American consumers really interested? The answer seems to be a resounding yes.
We’re often asked our opinion on the biggest challenge facing the nascent food insect sector. The expectation is that we’ll mention one thing: the struggle to convince Americans to eat bugs.
It’s received wisdom that consumers are closed-minded, “disgusted” by bugs and unwilling to try new things, and a chorus of sensationalist articles have repeated the obvious fact that most Westerners have yet to try insect-based foods. It’s hardly surprising, since insect products are only beginning to make their way onto supermarket shelves!
Since starting Tiny Farms, we’ve continually found these claims contradicted by our experience. Far from needing convincing, a huge share of the people we meet - from suburban mums to fitness freaks, regular diners to chefs, and farmers to food-tech investors - are thrilled about the chance to try a new ingredient. The phenomenal popularity of culinary exploration shows, like Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown, shows that Western audiences are hungry for new ideas, and our intuition is that we’re barely scratching the surface of demand.
Now, our intuition has been quantified by genuine research. San Francisco-based market research firm Blueshift Research have added insect-based foods to their monthly “trends tracker” study, an ongoing survey of a demographically representative sample of over a thousand US consumers. Alongside consumer opinions on technology, sustainability and media consumption, they’re collecting data on whether people want to eat bugs.
Their research has shown that roughly one-third of respondents rate themselves likely to buy an insect-based product. Not only do 32% of consumers want to eat bugs, but the rate is increasing quarter to quarter. They’ve found that insects are particularly popular among those ages 30 to 44, and those making between $25,000 to $49,999 or more than $150,000. This comes as a huge shock to those who see insects as a “poverty food”, impossibly beyond Western palates, or a novelty appealing only to the young and adventurous.
Three years of working on the frontlines of entomophagy mean that we’re not surprised by these results, but it’s still exciting to see the numbers. It really validates the amazing work being done by the consumer-facing pioneers in our sector. The biggest challenge in our industry remains the following: increasing production at a rate that can keep pace with rapidly growing demand. We’re excited to be working at the forefront of this space.
Co-founder & CEO, Tiny Farms Inc.