There is not yet an official roster for the North American Edible Insects Coalition (NAEIC) - which is the brainchild of Robert Nathan Allen, founder of Austin-based non-profit Little Herds - but Six Foods (Chirps), Entomo Farms, EXO and Chapul and other high-profile players in this emerging industry will all be at the initial meeting on Thursday (May 26) at the Eating Insects Detroit conference at Wayne State University (May 26-28).
Allen told FoodNavigator-USA: “At this point there isn't an official roster, as this first planning meeting will be where the stakeholders/Board of Directors and members are decided. However, I've had personal discussions with every major company in the [edible insects] industry and they all agree that a trade association is an imperative for the successful growth of the movement… [so] it is highly likely that the current major players such as Chapul, Exo, Chirps, Entomo Farms, Aspire Food Group, Big Cricket Farms, Cricket Flours, Crickers, and Bitty will all be involved.
“Beyond the industry companies, advocates and researchers like Marianne Shockley and Julie Lesnik plan to be involved, and Little Herds will be playing a key role as a nonprofit stakeholder in moving the organization forward in a responsible and transparent way.”
We’ve moved beyond the ‘OMG, eating bugs!’ phase…
He added: “We are forming the North American Edible Insects Coalition trade organization because the ‘OMG, eating bugs!’ phase is done and most consumers have heard of consuming crickets as an alternative protein.
“The edible insect industry is now in the consumer mainstream with entry to grocery stores like Publix and retail outlets such as Disney World… Our goal is that soon the average US consumer will enjoy cricket tacos and easily as we now enjoy a sushi roll.."
It remains to be seen whether edible insects can move from the niche to the mainstream of US food culture, but a $4m cash injection into cricket protein bar brand Exo - one of the pioneers in this nascent category – suggests bugs may have broader appeal than originally thought. Click HERE.
The key roles and initial projects will be decided at this meeting, he said, but the likely priorities, in no particular order, include:
“More research into insects and food allergies, research into automating production and processing methods, market research on likely adopters and consumer hurdles and expectations, lobbying for clear regulations to be adopted and enforced, lobbying for insects to be considered a commodity, and allowing access to subsidies which will allow insect products to compete on price point with other proteins that already receive huge subsidies paid for by taxpayers….
“And of course, concerted marketing and public awareness campaigns educating the public about the industry as a whole."
Six Foods: Insect foods aren't a trend on their own. Or they would just be a noveltly
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA ahead of the conference, Rose Wang, co-founder of Cambridge, MA-based Six Foods – which makes cricket protein-packed snack chips under the Chirps brand - said that the ‘OMG, eating bugs!’ factor had generated a lot of positive PR for Chirps and other players in the space.
However, companies in it for the long haul are acutely aware that once the novelty wears off, they have to tap into broader trends in the food marketplace, from sustainable protein to healthier snacking, she said.
“Insect foods aren't a trend on their own. Or they would just be a noveltly. We're tapping into demand for clean protein, for transparency, for healthier snacks. So we use cricket flour, but we also use navy beans, pea flour and chia seeds, and when we talk about insects, we talk about the benefits they bring and how they can tap into bigger trends."
She also acknowledged that if the edible insect movement is to meaningfully impact the protein market by displacing other animal-derived protein sources that are less sustainable, cricket companies will have to move beyond bars and chips into new areas over the longer term, from bug-packed patties to taco fillings.
However, snacks are a great ‘gateway’ food, she said: “We just want Americans to start getting used to the idea of insects as a food, and over time people will become open to eating them in other forms."
Like many bug-food pioneers, the bulk of Six Foods’ sales are done online right now, but the brand is slowly making its way into bricks & mortar stores, and recently rolled out to cafeterias at Disney World, which has generated a lot of buzz around Chirps, she said.
“It was a huge validation for our brand.”
“The biggest challenge of being an entrepreneur is that every day can be the best and worst of your life. I think we must have called 400 co-packers before we found someone that was willing to work with us, but it was still a YES even if we had to have 399 NO's to get it. You just have to keep your head up and keep going.”
Rose Wang, co-founder, Six Foods (Chirps)
Read more about the Edible Insects Detroit conference HERE.