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The Creepy Crawly Food Trends of 2024

If you’ve been paying attention to food industry trends, you might have seen that edible insects are the next big thing – in fine dining, in pet food, and in farming. With mounting evidence that alternative ingredients (like the coconut flour we mentioned in the first chapter of the FADS Marketing book) are not actually environmentally friendly, some sustainably-minded consumers are seeking out options that are better for the environment.

“The international investment bank Barclays is bullish on insect protein, noting that by 2050 the world is projected to need “up to 70% more food” for the ever-growing human population – and that, unlike beef, edible insects offer top-notch “sustainability credentials.”

“Sustainability credentials.”

Did you catch that? “Sustainability credentials.”

Nothing makes people feel more special than making choices that are morally superior and “enlightened.” Marketers know this, and they’re increasingly focusing on the emotional appeal of sustainability. Appealing to the human desire to feel special works so much better than trying to convince them with rational arguments about the sustainability of farming beef.

We’re not at full acceptance of insects in our diet yet – but we’re getting closer.

According to a piece in Food Dive, “Five years ago, there was still a lot of gimmicky stuff,” Ashour said. “The awareness of citizens on issues of climate change, particularly highlighted by COVID, has really made what we do not only very reasonable, but incredibly timely, almost like an intervention.”

The Cicada Emergence of 2024

This year marks a historic cicada emergence in the US, a rare event that has brought these noisy insects to the forefront of public attention. In an intriguing twist, major outlets like the New York Times have been providing cicada recipes, subtly coaxing behavior changes towards acceptance of eating insects.

This trend mirrors the growing interest in alternative proteins and the push for sustainable food sources, making the idea of eating insects more palatable and even trendy. While it seems like media outlets just trying to get clicks with these stories, this is a significant step in normalizing insect consumption, aligning with the broader movement toward sustainable and eco-friendly eating habits.

Research Insights: Nutritional and Environmental Benefits

Recent research published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) highlights the nutritional and environmental benefits of edible insects. According to the study, insects are rich in essential nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals, and they have a lower environmental footprint compared to traditional livestock. Insects require less land, water, and feed, and they produce fewer greenhouse gases. These factors make them a highly sustainable food source, capable of addressing food security challenges and environmental concerns simultaneously.

This is everything that many sustainably-minded consumers in the United States care about.

So why aren’t insects more than a novelty food item already? It’s the “yuck” factor.

Despite how much we say we care about the environment, the idea of eating insects is still just something we can’t get past. And that doesn’t even take into account our “all-or-nothing” mentality when it comes to dietary choices. Americans swing between polar opposites with extreme diets that exclude entire food groups, and get a little stuck on labels to describe their very special diets.

The Road Ahead: Changing Diets

The current global climate crisis and the post-pandemic mindset have heightened consumer interest in sustainable food options. People are more willing to explore new and sustainable food sources as they become more conscious of their environmental impact. This shift is easing some into an increasing acceptance of a more Middle Path approach to their diets. Many Americans are incorporating vegan or vegetarian meals into their diets, realizing that reducing meat consumption and including other dietary options can benefit their health and the environment.

This shift in consumer behavior is what will help individuals with their willingness to try insect-based foods, especially when presented as part of a broader sustainable lifestyle.

Celebrity chefs and high-profile endorsements will also play a crucial role in popularizing insect-based foods. These endorsements lend credibility and intrigue to the idea, making it more appealing to a wider audience. By promoting a more sustainable approach to food consumption, , these influencers will slowly normalize the idea of eating insects.

Technological Innovations: Insect Farming

Automation and innovative farming techniques are transforming the industry, making it possible to produce insect-based products at a lower cost and with higher quality. Companies like FlyFarm Systems have developed automated systems using robotics and IoT technology to monitor and manage the farming process, from feedstock preparation to harvesting. This reduces the need for manual labor and minimizes errors, ensuring consistent product quality and higher yields.

Innovations in processing are also allowing producers to add insect protein into familiar foods like protein bars and snacks, making the transition to insect consumption easier for the general public. These products are designed to meet consumer expectations for taste, texture, and convenience, which helps to overcome the initial hesitation associated with eating insects.

These advancements not only improve the sustainability of insect farming by reducing its environmental footprint but also enhance its economic viability. By integrating modern technology, the insect farming industry is poised to meet the growing demand for sustainable protein sources, addressing both food security challenges and environmental concerns simultaneously.

Finding the Middle Path: From Novelty to Normalcy

The journey towards incorporating insects into the American diet exemplifies a broader move towards balance and sustainability in food consumption.

The Powers that Be (PtB) are all set to profit, they just need to help us move through the stages of acceptance:

Initial Rejection (“Icky”): Initially, the idea of eating insects is met with strong resistance due to cultural norms and the “yuck” factor. Most Americans view insects as pests rather than food.

Curiosity and Novelty: Over time, curiosity leads to experimentation. Insects start appearing in novelty items and niche markets. This stage is characterized by media coverage and interest from adventurous eaters, but mainstream acceptance remains low.

Emerging Trend: As environmental and nutritional benefits become more widely recognized, insects begin to be marketed as a sustainable alternative protein source. This stage sees the rise of insect-based products in health food stores and specialized restaurants, often driven by innovative marketing and endorsements from celebrities and chefs.

Mainstream Acceptance: Finally, with continuous education and positive experiences, insect consumption becomes normalized. Regulatory support, improved availability, and enhanced product offerings make insects a common part of the diet. This stage reflects a balanced approach, where insects are integrated into everyday meals as a sustainable protein source.

We predict the PtB will continue to follow these stages until we reach the point where it’s just another of many dietary options filling their coffers with huge profits.

The Role of Influencers and Marketers

The Powers that Be (PtB), including marketers, influencers, and regulatory bodies, will do what they can to shift our behaviors to make the profits they predict are possible with widespread acceptance. By addressing these cultural and psychological barriers, along with enhancing the marketing and availability of insect products, it is possible to move beyond the extremes and towards a more balanced dietary approach that includes the sustainable benefits of edible insects.

Educational Campaigns: Investing in educational efforts to inform the public about the nutritional and environmental benefits of edible insects.

Innovative Marketing: Utilizing innovative marketing strategies that emphasize the sustainability and health benefits of insect-based foods, supported by endorsements from celebrities and chefs.

Regulatory Support: Ensuring regulatory bodies provide clear guidelines and support for the production and sale of insect-based products, thereby building consumer trust.

Increased Accessibility: Improving the availability of insect-based products in mainstream markets and making them more affordable.

Cultural Integration: Encouraging culinary integration where insects are used in familiar recipes, making the transition easier and more palatable for the average consumer.

By focusing on these strategies, the shift from seeing insects as a novelty to a normal part of our diets will happen. This balanced approach will not only benefit individual health but also contribute significantly to environmental sustainability. As insect-based foods become more mainstream, the predicted profitability for companies investing in this market will likely follow, fulfilling the economic potential of this sustainable food source.

As we navigate the future of food, finding the middle path in dietary habits will be crucial.

The progression from viewing insects as “icky” to a mainstream food source illustrates how societal norms can evolve towards more balanced and sustainable practices. With concerted efforts from marketers, influencers, and regulatory bodies, edible insects will move beyond novelty status and become a standard component of the American diet, providing both nutritional benefits and a positive environmental impact.

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