The world of insects and entomophagy is somewhat of a professional about-turn for Mophagy co-founder Harry Harrison, who used to work for Danish toy company Lego.
But the desire to be in a business that has sustainability at its core – as well as the realisation that Europe lacked the infrastructure to make insects mainstream – fuelled Harrison and his partner Josh Bentham to set up Mophagy.
“We concluded Europe as a whole was at least 3 years behind the likes of the US, who already have a blossoming entomophagy market place, and needed support if it were to have a chance of catching up. We
created Mophagy to be that support – to give businesses and consumers access to the ingredients, and a voice for entomophagy in the EU,” says Harrison, adding that manufacturers can save both time and money by sourcing crickets and mealworms directly through them.
“There has been a growing interest across food sectors around using insects as ingredients, however most have been put off due to the time, energy and financial commitment it takes to find a quality source and navigate EU import and food health regulation. Our primary aim is to support these innovative businesses, ensuring they can spend more time and investment on building their brands and focusing on product innovation.”
“We are laying the foundation on which to build the industry,” he adds.
Only a few months in existence, Mophagy have partnered up with one of the biggest names in the insect world, Canadian company Entomo Farms, which supplies successful US brands Chapul and EXO.
Previously known as Next Millennium Farms, Entomo is vertically integrated – raising and processing its own insects – and CEO, Jarrod Goldin, sees a bright, six-legged future in Europe. “North American demand for insect based products has grown exponentially over the past 18 months. The Mophagy partnership has already proven Europe to be following this trend, and are now set up to supply our insects at the best possible price and with the highest level of service across the UK and EU.”
It’s early days yet, says Harrison, but so far Mophagy’s customers include Bodhi protein bars and Gathr, the British company behind the Crobar brand, as well as high end restaurants.
There are plans to extend the ingredients on offer beyond crickets and mealworms – and there is certainly scope to do so with a reported 1,900 insect species eaten around the world according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
But Mophagy’s priority for the minute is to focus on raising the profile of its two flagship ingredients. “It’s important not to overwhelm the market in its formative stages,” says Harrison.
So which European countries are hungriest for caterpillars?
Harrison sees a connection between the amount of regulatory support and openness given in certain EU countries prior to the novel food applications – such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy – and expected consumer demand. But it is in the UK that he has his eyes on. “The UK has a history of innovative thinking, and with the rising demand for clean eating, natural protein and sustainable produce amongst consumers, we believe it is here in the UK that we will see the largest growths in this sector,” he said.
Novel foods in a nutshell
Before November last year, the wording of the Novel Foods Act, which prohibited the sale of foods not habitually consumed before 1997 in the European Union, had allowed for some leeway in interpretation as it stipulated that although isolated parts of the animal constituted a novel food, whole insects themselves did not, including when milled into flour.
This has since been changed to include whole insects, and companies wishing to sell novel foods must submit a dossier for authorisation, although the amended regulation does not come into force until January 2018 and, according to the UK’s Food Standards Agency, there are “transition arrangements” for products that were legally on the market when the regulation came into force.
Between 1997 and 2014, there were around 170 applications for novel food authorisation across the EU, and so far around 90 have been granted, including chia seeds, high pressure fruit juice (which was a novel food production method) and microalgae oil that is rich in omega-3 fatty acid, DHA.
In any case, Harrison is optimistic. “The novel foods act does bring with it a fair number of challenges, but overall we see it as a positive step,” hesays. “As with any new ingredient it needs to be properly regulated to ensure the highest levels of quality are met and consumers feel confident in their purchase decision.
“We have 20 months – November 2017 – until the submission of our novel foods application, and we will be working in close partnership with Entomo Farms, The Woven Network [a professional network that helps UK entrepreneurs and researchers working in the field of insects for food], customers, regulators and researchers to ensure all requirements are met and the market is secure.”
Insects are a part of the traditional diet of at least two billion people – or 27% of the current global population – according to a 2013 FAO report.
Harry Harrison and Josh Bentham will be speaking at the conference “Insects as Food and Feed: The Way Forward” organised by the Woven Network & Royal Entomological Society, held at the University of Nottingham on Monday 11 April.