Insects as food: convincing consumers to swap steaks for cicadas

Monday, 21 July, 2014


We’ve all heard it before: if we’re going to feed the world without killing the planet, we’re going to have to make some big changes to how we eat. Increasingly, it’s looking like we’re going to have to swap steaks for cicadas, if recent reports are anything to go by.

While it seems like the sensible option, how do we convince squeamish consumers that insects are a viable (and palatable) option? Research from Canadean suggests that information is key - as is tapping into insects’ association with exotic foods.

Surveying 2000 consumers in the UK, Canadean found that 65% said they would not be at all willing to try foods made from processed insects. However, consumers who are given detailed, flavour-focused product descriptions are more likely to be willing to try them. When given detailed information, 46% of consumers said they’d be willing to try insect-based products, compared with only 35% who were given minimal information about the products.

“Processed insects will be an easier sell than products where consumers can see the insects in front of them,” said Catherine O’Connor, senior analyst for Canadean.

“To get past the disgust barrier, insect-derived foods must have a strong visual appeal and not be recognisably bug based.”

African and South-East Asian cultures have a long history of eating insects. Canadean found that linking insect products with these cultures can make consumers more receptive to them.

The survey found that 6% of consumers who are willing to try insects would only eat them as part of a foreign cuisine. Willingness to try insect-derived foods was also higher among those who described themselves as eager to enjoy food from different cultures, with 51% of these consumers willing to try insects.

“Overall, these findings show that marketers of insect-derived foods will have to work carefully to convince consumers that insects can be a part of their diet,” said O’Connor.

“However, the interest is there, especially among those who are hungry for new and exciting food experiences.”

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