FoodMattersLive (FML) in London was an opportunity for food industry figures to debate an increasingly different world of food.
Central to the discussion was alternative protein sources, specifically insect proteins. While this food source had a significant presence at the event, the prospect of eating crickets did not go down well for one of the panellists.
“Insect protein can be part of the answer,” said Professor Bryan Hanley, food specialist at the Knowledge Transfer Network.
“The problem I have with it is the conversion rate. For what we feed insects versus the amount of protein extracted is roughly the same as that of a chicken.
“The most important factor for me is the ‘yuck’ factor,” he added. “People simply don’t want to eat insects. In terms of sustainability, I think it’s a bit of a cul-de-sac.”
The rise of protein
FML was a host to many companies exhibiting their insect-protein inspired products to the industry and public alike.
Companies such as Jimini’s, Eat Grub, and Next Step Foods have made great strides in presenting a range of snack products that offer an alternative to animal-based proteins.
Key to their success and gradual acceptance by a sceptical public has been their approach in communicating the food’s origins and benefits, branding messages that resonate most with the consumer.
“It is so much to do with how information is packaged,” said fellow panellist and science broadcaster, Dr Shini Somara.
“On the subjects of insects, if you present a plate of insects, no one is going to want to eat them. The minute you ground them down, and turn it into a flour, everyone is quite happy to try it.
“The turning point in getting people to eat crickets would be in providing the information about its nutritional value and high protein content. Providing that kind of unbiased factual information for people is essential.”
Communicating how innovative foods were a superior alternative was a particular challenge for the panelists and formed the bulk of the hour-long discussion.
Referring to QR codes that allow consumers to scan ingredients of a product, Dr Kaave Pour, a creative designer for Space 10, said: “The power of what you should be eating will gradually shift from the company to the consumer.
“The technology is a way to cut through all the marketing and label claims to answer the fundamental question of whether this product is good for you.”
Love life, love food
Sara Roversi, co-founder,of the Future Food Institute, suggested going back to basics when communicating about food, appealing to the heart of why people were engaged with food.
“When we talk about food, we are not only talking about nutrition. Food is also a concept, a history and a culture.
“It is the first cultural experience for many people, eating at a foreign restaurant and sampling their cuisine for the first time,” she added.
“It’s a simple concept at first, but if we consider the world as it is, with its immigration, refugee and political challenges, food is the first language of an increasingly multicultural world.”
Professor Hanley pointed out that consumer acceptance was very much to do with how quick consumers were able to reap health benefits, often with unrealistic expectations.
“As humans, we tend to look for quick solutions. The reality is the complexities of the diet make a magic bullet a mythical concept.
“For example, you cannot go out there and start consuming fish oil as a food that will fix everything. It doesn’t work that way. People need to understand how complex things are but not impossibly complex,” he commented.
“Instead of adding years to life, we should add life to years.”