Inside the future of food start-ups

Tomorrow's lunches will be slightly different. Ham sandwiches, pastries and salad will be replaced by cow-less meat, cheese made from nuts, jellyfish, seaweed and insects. It may take us some time to adjust our diets, but for entrepreneurs and start-ups considering developing their own future food products, there are certain steps that can be taken to influence consumption habits.

The challenge is to make these future food options mainstream. Here are some lessons from the edible insect industry…

By 2050, the UN estimates that the global population will have risen to nine billion people, and in order to feed more mouths, alternative sources of protein will be needed. Insects are touted as the ideal solution. They have a small carbon footprint compared to traditional livestock and could help cut greenhouse gases. The environmental case for investing in bugs gets the thumbs up, but getting consumers to care about sustainability is no mean feat.

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Stick to familiar territory

According to Six Foods, the Boston-based company that produces potato chips using cricket powder, six legs are better than four. Co-founder Laura D'Asaro likens their product to hot dogs and chicken nuggets, which the majority of us eat willingly without thinking about the animals as whole.

Many people are adverse to the thought of crunching on critters, running the risk of getting a wing or leg stuck between our teeth. Also, we tend to buy foods and stick to brands that we're familiar with. So, by disguising the insects in snacks we know well, the consumer reaction is likely to be more positive, says D'Asaro.

Test, taste, test

As with any food, it's important to get the balance of ingredients right. If the insect content is too high it'll overpower the other flavours and it may put off the more squeamish eaters. Crickets, by their own nature, are distinctively nutty, especially if roasted or fried before being ground down. They tend to be more suited to savoury snacks, so using them in sweeter products can be trickier and can involve a lot of trial and error. This is something that Crowbar, the Icelandic start-up behind the recently launched protein snack Jungle Bar – containing cricket powder, chocolate and dates – found out.

“The bars went through a rigorous testing process before the product was launched. We had close to 3,000 people from three countries (Iceland, Denmark and the Netherlands) try multiple prototypes in different sessions, from August of 2014 to July 2015, " says co-founder Búi Aðalsteinsson. "The feedback received from the people greatly influenced the final taste."

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Testing is a vital part of product development. Not only can you get a consensus on which ingredients work and what the best texture is, it can also help shape how the product is eventually pitched to the public.

"By conducting these tests, we got a good idea of what kind of marketing messages we wanted to use, and in what situations [between meals snack, post-gym nibble or leisure] consumers would buy and eat them" adds Aðalsteinsson.

Marketing the sustainability aspect

Six Foods are quite open about the fact that their product contains insects and they want consumers to know that they are the future of food. Not only is the clue (number of legs!) in their name, but the potato chips' packaging features a friendly-looking cricket.

D'Asaro and her co-founders did their homework and found a strategy that worked for them. The resulting design is fun and quirky. Others prefer not to directly advertise the cricket powder within, but not camouflage it either.

"During the design stage, we saw that the few existing products in the insect-infused snack bars market focused a lot on portraying an image of sustainability," says Aðalsteinsson. "We wanted to differentiate Jungle Bar from them by portraying it more as a fun and exciting product... not excluding the sustainability factor of it, but focusing more on the exotic nature.

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"Also, we didn't want to make a direct visual reference to insects on the bar and have one on the packaging, but rather show it with symbolism and words."

Consider the colour

Psychology research shows that certain colours trigger certain emotions. Red and yellow are the chief ones, used predominantly by the fast food industry, and they stimulate the appetite. It's unlikely though that there'll be an insect-based product that uses red and yellow packaging. After all, cricket powder doesn't scream "eat me".

Aðalsteinsson and his team chose a mixture of mainly brown, greens and blues that generally don't stimulate the appetite as much, but are warm, wholesome and natural. These colours help create mystery and intrigue. And this can influence consumers to get over the yuck factor and eat insects.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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