Buzzing: 2020 was big
This week in Buzzing:
The big news of 2020
The Q&A: Leopold Taylor, BUG
Test corner: Mealworm and kale pesto rigatoni
Howdy everyone. How are you today? We did it, 2020 is nearly over! This will be my last newsletter of 2020, so I thought I’d reflect on significant developments in the sector this year. I think the sector is on the cusp of going mainstream. Here are my top three news of the year.
1) The big one: Ÿnsect raises $372 million, October 2020
French mealworm company Ÿnsect raised $372 million through a range of investors, including FootPrint Coalition, a venture capital firm founded by Robert Downey Jr (yes, Ironman himself). This is the largest amount ever raised by a non-American company in the agtech sector, and it brings Ÿnsect’s total capital to date to $425 million, more than the total amount raised by the entire insect protein sector globally.
Ÿnsect is currently building a large factory in northern France; it will not be complete until 2022, yet the company has already signed $100 million worth of commercial contracts for agricultural fertilisers (using insect frass) and aquafeed. As one executive put it, “these are very big numbers for an industry no-one knew much about three years ago.”
2) The commercial launch: Nestlé’s Purina launches insect-based pet food, November 2020
I mentioned this briefly in Buzzing’s last edition. What I found really interesting about this is that in October, Canadian Black Soldier Fly (BSF) company Enterra completed a market study assessing demand for insect protein and they’d concluded that demand for “natural” pet food would come further down the line, after demand for hypoallergenic food and natural treats. Two weeks later, Nestlé made this announcement. The market is moving faster than even insiders anticipate.
Purina Beyond Nature’s Protein insect line will be available for cats and dogs and feature insect protein (Black Soldier Fly, since you ask), chicken and fava bean. The initial launch was in Switzerland; a roll-out to other markets is expected in 2021.
3) The glimpse of the future: Goterra instals an insect system to process food waste at a high-end development in Sydney, December 2020
Not many people will have heard of this but I think it is one of the most exciting developments I heard all year. Picture it for a minute: a container full of maggots (BSF larvae to be precise), installed in the basement of a glitzy development in Sydney, to process the food waste of its many residents (domestic and commercial). This is what insects have evolved to do and it makes so much sense to deploy them to that effect. Goterra, the Australian company behind the idea, then uses the larvae as poultry feed and the frass as fertiliser.
We shouldn’t be fooled by the simplicity of the concept however: a lot of technology and IP has gone into Goterra’s containerised systems. Goterra is also in the unique position to have a regulatory framework that allows them to do this: few countries currently allow the use of post-consumer waste as substrate (the insects’ feed). But this circular economy model is the future, so let’s marvel at the opportunities for a minute.
On that note, I send you all my warmest wishes for the festive period. Buzzing will take a holiday break and see you back in January. Thank you for reading. Please keep sharing. Stay safe.
The Q&A: Leopold Taylor, CEO & co-founder of BUG
First it was food boxes, then recipe boxes and now, insect-meal boxes. Leopold Taylor and Aaron Thomas launched BUG (Better Universal Grub) in April this year, a recipe box containing two insect-based meals. The meals require a little planning, so the entrepreneurs are now working on a new product range aimed at the more impromptu cooks. Each kit is an insect+condiment combo designed to be used in dishes with broad appeal such as stir-fries, pasta or salads, that customers can easily adapt (no carrots? Use a pepper instead). They won’t launch until next spring, so Buzzing got the inside scoop to whet your appetite.
How did you start BUG?
I come from a pretty eclectic family: everyone was born in a different country. I grew up in southeast Asia and I was exposed to different cultures and foods, including insects. It wasn’t until the FAO came out with a report showing how insects could solve sustainability issues that I really got interested however.
I couldn’t see anyone doing anything meaningful in this space. Everything was a snack. My friend and co-founder Aaron Thomas was running a small business making sausages and burgers, and before we knew it, we were cooking recipes with insects and posting videos on Instagram. Soon, people started asking us whether they could buy insects, so we launched the bug boxes in April this year.
Your focus is on meals rather than snacks: why is that?
The current thinking on insects as food is: how can we get people over the line and realise that insects are not that disgusting. That’s a flawed reasoning: you’re trying to convince the average Joe to try it.
For us, it’s all about the early adopters. We’re thinking: who is going to love eating insects? In the short-term, our mission is to find these people and to make products and services that will allow them to make delicious food at home. We are wholeheartedly focused on finding people who are going to eat insects on a regular basis because they’re the people who will drive this and normalise it.
What are your plans to grow BUG?
We’re looking for funding to outsource the manufacturing of the kits, which we plan to launch in spring 2021. We have three kits at the moment (a stir-fry, a pasta/salad and a falafel kit), with crickets and buffalo worms. We’d like to increase it to 15 kits over time, perhaps with different insects. We want variety but the most important thing is that they taste good.
Test corner: Mealworm & kale pesto rigatoni
I’ve enjoyed watching my mealworm beetles settle over the past couple of weeks. I’ve even moved them down to the next tray now, assuming that the first one has been populated with eggs 🤞. It’ll be a few more weeks until we can harvest anything, so in the mean time, I thought I’d try one of the recipes BeoBia have sent in their recipe book. And it so happens that the recipes were developped by Leo and Aaron from BUG.
I settled on the mealworm and kale pesto rigatoni, for the simple reason that I’ve made spinach/kale pesto pasta many times before, that we all love it and that adding mealworms seemed like a great addition.
You can find the full recipe on BUG’s website. This one actually calls for crickets, but you can do a straight swap for mealworms. My only deviations from the recipe were that I left out the chilli flakes and blended all the cashew nuts, mealworms and kale: I know my audience, if it’s not blended, it’ll languish on the side on the plate.
The flavour the mealworms bring to the recipe is very distinctive: a lovely earthy nuttiness. The kids wolfed their plates down and so did we, so much so that I actually forgot to take a picture. Oops. So instead, you have the fabulous professional shot from BUG (mine looked exactly the same, obviously). I can’t wait to try another recipe: I think the breakfast muffins are next.
Hi, I’m Emilie Filou, a freelance journalist. I specialise in business and sustainability issues and have a long-standing interest in Africa. If you liked Buzzing, please share with friends and colleagues, or buy me a coffee. My funky cricket avatar was designed by Sheila Lukeni.