ValuSect, which stands for Valuable Insects, is a consortium of partners coordinated by Thomas More University in the US. Armed with a €2.08m grant from the INTERREG North-West Europe programme, which aims to make the region a ‘key economic player’, ValuSect will support agri-food businesses who want to grow the market for insect-based foods in the region.
Companies who are interested can receive a voucher worth up to €40,000 in services delivered by the project partners to develop products, carry out consumer taste panels, optimise insect breeding and improve insect food processing.
The project aims to address some of the weaknesses in the current market for insect supply and product development. “To improve the insect-based products offer, more research is needed on insect composition, insect processing, food safety issues, products shelf life and consumer acceptance,” Hélène Herman from ValuSect explained.
“We hope to make the demand in expertise meet the offer. Our partners have expertise in insect-based food product research, development and marketing. By facilitating knowledge transfer though networking activities and a voucher scheme, we hope to increase new to the firm or new to the market products in North-West Europe,” she told FoodNavigator.
Research will focus on the emission of greenhouse gasses, the impact of substrates, food safety and on the shelf life of insect-based food products.
ValuSect believes that it is important to increase European consumption and grow the market of foods containing insects because they are a sustainable and healthy protein source. At a time of rising population and decreasing resources, especially in densely populated areas such as North-West Europe, sustainable alternatives for food resources are needed, the project coordinators suggest.
“Insects are a sustainable protein alternative. This is needed in North-West Europe, an area that is characterised by intensive agriculture and a high population density.
“Insects are a sustainable solution to help feed the world in the future.”
Overcoming the ‘yuck’ factor
Approximately 30% of EU consumers are willing to eat insect-based food, according to data provided by ValuSect. However, these purchases are most often ‘novelty’ products and consumers in the region are less likely to integrate foods that contain insects into their regular purchase patterns.
“The so-called ‘yuck’ factor is an important barrier in Western Europe. Unlike in other parts of the world like Asia and Africa, we are not used to eat whole insects, nor having it in preparations. The consumers usually try insects as a ‘fun’ product but are not consistent buyers,” Herman elaborated.
The project wants to challenge consumer attitudes towards insects on a number of fronts, from consumer messaging to a focus on food safety research.
“ValuSect aims at changing the consumers' perception of insect-based food by having testing panels and raising awareness about the many benefits of insects for food, [such as their] high nutrient score and low environmental impact,” Herman elaborated. “Food safety will be one of the focuses of the project, as it is essential to market a product and gain consumers trust.”
Supporting innovation and SMEs
Innovation is also an important part of the drive to gain consumer acceptance and ValuSect has identified areas where product development is likely to help the sector gain more mainstream appeal.
“We believe preparations made of insect powder, and therefore without apparent insect pieces, will help diminish this yuck factor.”
The project wants to support the industry to develop new production models and products in order to support the market and enhance demand growth.
“The aim of the project is to transfer the knowledge owned by our insect and food experts to businesses/farmers that would like to develop new products.”
This will help bridge the knowledge gap that currently stands as something of a barrier to innovation in the space, Herman noted. “SMEs lack knowledge in some areas of insect-based food production. They generally do not have enough resources to carry out research themselves. ValuSect will offer them access to the information they need to start or improve their production and to market their products in a safe and sustainable way.”
The project will use species that already have an application running for authorisation under the EU novel food regulation.
Beyond the lead partner, the project consists of nine full members and eight associated partners from seven different countries. The full members are Inagro vzw, Aberystwyth University, Zürcher Fachhochschule, Stichting Fontys, Innovatiesteunpunt, Teagasc, New Generation Nutrition Pro-Active, AliénorEU and BIC Innovation Limited.
The project will run until June 2023.