Grasshoppers are being viewed as a viable, sustainable, and more ethically sourced form of protein, springing up potential new business opportunities for Australian players.
Existing protein sources are reaching their limits. The global population is expected to exceed 9.7 billion by 2050, and with this, the global demand for protein is expected to double.
Plant protein often requires processing, and animal-sourced protein requires greater water consumption. These limitations have presented a global opportunity to develop innovative and high quality alternative protein sources.
Grasshoppers are not only edible and safe to consume, but are considered highly nutritious. They are 70 percent protein, contain essential amino acids, are very low in saturated fats and are neutral in taste and flavour.
Today, there are 2.5 billion people (predominantly in Asia and Central America) who consume insects, with grasshoppers being the most common. Startup Hargol Food Tech is the first company in the world to grow and harvest grasshoppers successfully on a commercial scale.
As an emerging industry, the grasshopper market faces a number challenges, including:
Changing consumer perception towards edible grasshoppers from ‘disgusting’, to that of a viable form of protein has been a challenge for Hargol. However, a number of large food producers have already entered the market and are successfully counteracting this perception. Doritos has begun to integrate insects into its products, Nestle is experimenting with grasshopper protein in its porridges, and IKEA is shifting to an increased sustainability focus and has announced it will replace beef with insect protein in its infamous Swedish meatballs. With larger players leading the way in alternative protein sources, this reduces the pressure on startups to stimulate consumer demand and change perceptions.
At present there is a lack of funding resources to really develop scale in the industry. In addition, entrepreneurs are being pushed into automation by investors to build expensive farms that do not support how the insects behave. In order to develop the industry, entrepreneurs need to undertake further research into the behaviours and optimal environment for production before they increase scale.
Intensive livestock farming typically attracts animal welfare concerns. However, as grasshoppers are the bottom of the food chain in the wild, creating a protected space ensures their survival rate is increased. Encouragingly, Hargol has been able to successfully adhere to the European Union animal welfare recommendations of minimal animal interference.
Grasshoppers are cold blooded animals, so to harvest them the temperature is dropped and the grasshoppers fall asleep. While asleep, grasshoppers are frozen, and thus pass away in their sleep, with minimal stress inflicted. Hargol has since found some vegans and vegetarians are consuming grasshoppers for this reason.
With changing consumer diet trends and a rising demand for more sustainably sourced animal protein, the race to produce new and alternative means of protein will see the creation and emergence of new – and somewhat unconventional – markets such as the grasshopper. The potential for innovation in this market is vast, and the opportunities for new business plentiful.