Ok, ok… if eating insects is so good for you and is being done in countries all over the world, why haven’t we seen more progress in the industry? Why are crickets still more expensive than other forms of protein?
The livestock and agriculture industries have had thousands of years to innovate and maximize efficiency in production and cost. The insect farming industry, in contrast, has only been around for about 50 years. It is in the best interest of farmers (like Next Millennium Farms), processors (like All Things Bugs), and end product users (like Exo) to start making the insect farming process more efficient. All Things Bugs, for example, is pursuing grants from the USDA and other institutions to improve the economics of cricket farming and introduce higher levels of automation, but this is just the beginning.
Dr.Dossey mentions that even though he is a processor, not a farmer, he has a huge interest in improving the economics of farming. He says, “We are already working with farmers to meet our supply needs. In fact, we bought 20,000 pounds of certified organic feed for a farm we work with because they were too small scale to meet our needs.”
This inefficiency is reflected in the price. “Cricket powders are expensive compared to other protein powders. Several factors contribute to this. Most of this extra cost comes from the cost per cricket. We are behind on scale and automation – a lack of technology. We are feeding and watering them manually.”
Dr. Dossey notes that cricket farmers even lack machines to move the crickets around in the farm like basic chicken farms have. Even if this technology was available, the small scale of current insect farms might make expensive machines cost prohibitive. Scale presents a huge problem with the feed too – farmers are buying such a small amount of feed and do not receive as good of deals as Tyson Chicken would, for example.
Even on the processing end, costs are still high. “Due to a lack of scale, we have large base costs for set up, breakdown and equipment cleaning at contractmanufacturing facilities that are not averaged over large numbers of units. Also, we are not subsidized the way other industries are.” Dossey notes that the insect farming industry has not had over a century to develop like other livestocks, nor is it huge. “We have a long way to catch up. That being said, we only have around a roughly 3-fold price difference compared to whey protein. Given the huge different in development times we are not that far away. And I’ve done the math – we can drop our costs in half, just with an increase in scale!”
Some more seasoned business executives consider the insect industry to be business run by amateurs, but the field is learning quickly. It’s very motivating and optimistic for the people on the 3 levels of the insect food sector – the farmers, the processors, and the end product (power bars, etc.) creators – to see the changes occurring in the field and in public opinion.
Dr. Dossey’s company sits between the farmer and the end product creator. He, too, is optimistic about the future. When asked about long term goals, he replied, “We are trying to get some main stream company like Cliff Bar, Kashi and others to produce an insect-based product. Whether they use our powder or not, it would be huge for our whole industry. We want to normalize and commoditize insects to improve food, agriculture, and health.”
More about Aaron Dossey: Dr. Aaron T. Dossey is a life-long, self-taught Entomologist and enthusiast of Entomology and nature. The central theme of his research is to capitalize on the chemical and biological diversity which exists among arthropods for a host of applications including drug discovery, identifying new insect repellents and how insects might contribute to a more sustainable human food supply. Dr. Dossey’s research has led to award winning publications as well as speaking engagements at meetings and institutions. His company, All Things Bugs LLC, develops sustainable eco-friendly technologies from insects to improve food security and health. Visit All Things Bugs Here.