Leader CEO on keeping pace with Finland’s ‘high demand’ for cricket-based protein

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Interest growing in insect-based foods in Finland ©iStock
Interest growing in insect-based foods in Finland ©iStock
Leader Foods is launching a new line of cricket-based Zircca protein snack bars in Finland and the company has been taken “by surprise” by the positive response in the country.

Overcoming the 'ick' factor

Fazer cricjet bread
Fazer's new bread made with cricket flour, launched in November

Finland lifted a ban on selling incests as food products in November. Since then, bakery group Fazer launched a bread that is enriched with around 70 ground house crickets late last month. The product is available at Fazer's 11 in-store bakeries throughout Finland and retails at €3.99 versus €2-3 for a regular loaf.

"Insects contain good fatty acids, calcium, iron and vitamin B12​," Juhani Sibakov, Fazer innovation director, said of the launch.

Other European countries that permit the sale of insect-based food products include the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria. Meanwhile, in May Switzerland gave the green light to the sale of food products containing crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms.

The new range consists of protein bars containing 34% protein that are available in two flavours - nutmix & cocoa and strawberry & yoghurt. It also includes two snack bars made of cricket flour, fruit, seeds and nuts. The snack bars also come in two varieties: Incaberry, Orange & Raw Cacao and Matcha & Lemon flavours.

Each bar contains around 17 crickets, the company noted. The products are gluten-free and will retail at around €2 per bar.

Demand exceeds expectations

According to Leader CEO Janne Hakala, insect-based ingredients are a “rising trend”​ due to their sustainable and nutritional credentials. 

“The protein from crickets is, in terms of nutrition, of a better quality and environmentally more sustainable than the protein that we get from many other sources,”​ Hakala said.

However, Leader was shocked by just how strong demand was. “Insects have not been a traditional part of western food culture. For this reason, we thought that sales of Zircca bars would grow at a rather cautious rate at the beginning. The reception in the market was entirely different.”

Hakala told FoodNavigator that the first batch of 500,000 bars was sold within the space of “one 15-minute phone call​”, within one hour of beginning discussions with retailers in Finland. The second batch of 500,000 bars - Leader’s factory in Toholampi in January – has already been reserved.

Significantly, specialist retailers will be the only stockists of the Zircca bars. Leader has secured distribution with mainstream retail multiples, the chief executive revealed.

“Sales of Zircca will begin next week in about 1,400 shops with one of the bigger Finnish retail chains. In Q1 of 2018, the cricket bar will be sold in altogether 5000 hyper- or supermarkets, kiosks, service stations, gyms, etcetera in Finland. The mainstream retailers in Finland are very much excited about Zircca.”

Hakala also expects to grow the brand overseas. “We are marketing Zircca overseas as well so we expect there to be growing demand for it abroad, too. It is clearly an innovation that consumers are interested in. In the background, we also see increasing interest more generally in ethical and sustainable production & environmental consciousness.”

Zircca Protein strawberry-yoghurt 30g 3D
Leader's Zircca bar has already proven popular with retailers

Investing in production and supply

Leader Food’s production facility in Toholampi has an annual output of 120m bars and the company is investing to expand capacity. By the summer of 2019, the group expects to “more than double”​ production to 250m bars a year.

However, a key challenge currently limiting production is Leader’s access to raw materials. “Sourcing is indeed an issue at the moment and we expect to be able to match demand after 12 months,”​ Hakala confirmed.

Beyond the bar

Leader Foods believes that consumer and retailer demand for products enriched with insect protein stretches beyond the protein and snack bar format.

The company already has plans for further product launches in the pipeline. “In the spring, we will launch a dark chocolate bar based on cricket flour (14 crickets) with 70% cacao and coconut & pineapple. Already in January, we will launch a ready-made-soup with cricket flour and coconut & ginger.”

Hakala is confident on the outlook for insect-derived foods: “We are very much convinced that the insect-protein trend is here to stay, also given the environmental reasons behind it and the whole issue of being able to produce enough food for the world’s population. This, of course, will require that production of raw material is scaled up.”

The outlook for insect-based food products will be just one area of discussion at Protein Food Vision, an event powered by FoodNavigator that is taking place in Amsterdam next March. Join us to discover the latest business opportunities in the protein space. Leading experts will be discussing everything from export markets and growth categories to health and sustainability. Click here to find out more​.

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