26 March 2019

Bugs Taste Great!

Welcome back. About five years ago, I blogged about the surprising nutritional and environmental merits of edible insects (see Entomophagy). Did it work? Hardly. A researcher from Switzerland’s University of Bern led a study that may have finally found a way to get bugs in your belly.

Snack bars made with
cricket-based flour

Edible Insects
As I wrote in that earlier blog post:
- (I)nsects are included in the regular diet of at least 2 billion people worldwide.
- (T)here are limited opportunities to increase the production of food from land or ocean. Making greater use of insects for both human diet as well as animal feed should be considered.
- (E)dible insects are generally high in protein, vitamin, mineral, fiber and good fat content…nutrition-wise, they can be comparable to or better than meat and fish.
- Edible insects emit fewer greenhouse gasses than most livestock; require less land for rearing and no land clearing; and being cold-blooded, are much more efficient at converting feed to protein than conventional livestock. Crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle to produce the same amount of protein.

Promotion Strategies
Recognizing that skepticism and disgust have hindered the acceptance of edible insects in Western countries, the research team examined a new promotional strategy. Rather than pitch edible insects with utilitarian nutritional and environmental arguments, they appealed to the hedonic experience, the pleasure of consuming insects.

To test this approach, they recruited 180 participants on a centrally located square in Cologne, Germany (63% female; average age 25, varying from 18 to 72). Recruitment was for a consumer study of new products, with no mention of insects.

After consenting, the participants completed a questionnaire that gave information about entomophagy, consumption of insects as food.

The primary experimental manipulation was an information sheet advertising a start-up company planning to enter the entomophagy market. The key sentence in the advertisement began “Eating meat has never been so …” and concluded with either a utilitarian reason (e.g., good for the body, good for the environment) or a hedonic reason (delicious, exotic, trendy).

After participants wrote a statement about what they saw and thought about the information sheet and responded to questions about their consumption habits, they were presented a mealworm truffle (about 20 mealworms covered in dark chocolate), glass of water and questionnaire which asked: “On the basis of the information available, what quality do you expect from this truffle?” Rate from 1 = very bad to 7 = very good.

The mealworm truffles I found were garnished with bugs you might not like. These are mealworm dumplings. Please add your own chocolate (from www.livinfarms.com/the-hive-en/).
Participants were then asked their willingness to consume the truffle. Those who were and did rated the taste and price they were willing to pay for a 100 gram package of the product.

Finally, participants completed a 27-item questionnaire assessing their disgust sensitivity.

Hedonic Claims Win!
The study found that, compared to utilitarian arguments, hedonic claims of mealworm truffles led to higher expectations, which resulted in a higher probability of consumption as well as higher taste ratings.

Of those willing to eat a truffle, 76% had seen the hedonic claims, 66% the environmental claims, 61% the environmental and health claims combined, and 57% the health claims only.

Percentage of participants who ate a truffle after seeing utilitarian vs. hedonic claims (from www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2018.00088/full).
Wrap Up
While the study findings clearly favored hedonic over utilitarian pitches for promoting edible insects, the researchers emphasize the need for testing beyond the laboratory, in other cultures and countries, and with products other than mealworm truffles. Even then, price, which is currently comparable to beef, will be a significant factor.

Nevertheless, because people's aversion toward edible insects is more emotional than rational, trying to influence emotions seems the way to go. Bon app├ętit! And thanks for stopping by.

Study of edible insect promotion in Frontiers in Nutrition journal: www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2018.00088/full
Article on study on ScienceDaily website: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181002082449.htm

A version of this blog post appeared earlier on www.warrensnotice.com.

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