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Insects were the future of food. They've ended up in the pet aisle

Ilena Peng, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

For their first attempt at making food from insects, Sean Warner and Patrick Pittaluga started with a bug burger.

Their patty, which combined black beans with black soldier fly larvae, was cooked up at their Georgia Tech apartment not long after the United Nations had published an influential 2013 report that touted insects as the future of food, a natural resource that could help with rising meat costs and climate concerns as the global population grows.

But the bug burger didn’t taste great, and before long, the entrepreneurs steered their Grubbly Farms brand to focus on insect-based food for dogs and chickens.

The pivot from feeding humans to furry and feathered creatures was a practical adaptation to what many startups and established brands have seen in their attempts to build a market for these ingredients: Whatever the environmental good, people just aren’t yet willing to eat bugs. But they are perfectly happy to feed the critters to their pets.

Food for animals is fueling demand for insect protein, which could jump 4,900% from 2021 to half a million metric tons by the end of the decade, according to a Rabobank report.

Those prospects for growth have drawn venture capitalists to the fledgling industry. Investors plowed $76.77 million into insect-based food companies in 2022 and another $14.92 million last year, according to PitchBook data. Mark Cuban and Robert Downey Jr. are among the investors who have put money into insect protein companies.

 

The startups face a tricky balancing act as they try to create demand for their products — one that has led them away from catering to human diners.

“Being too early is just as risky as being too late,” says Phil Poirier, co-founder of Montreal-based Wilder Harrier, whose products include cricket dog snacks and black soldier fly dry food.

Health-Minded Appeals

Diners have proven a tough crowd for insect-protein evangelists. Only a quarter of consumers in the US are willing to incorporate insect ingredients into their regular diet, according to a 2021 YouGov survey that had a similar finding for key European markets like Germany and the UK.

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