@Jackie San

TOKUSHIMAHuman consumption of crickets, which are rich in nutrients and expected to help solve humanity's food crisis, has reached a crossroads in Japan.

A recent wave of firms joining the edible bug market may prove to be a short-lived fad as further growth is being impeded by soaring prices of ingredients and continuing resistance among consumers to making insects part of their diet.

Businesses in the industry have taken a hit especially on social media where their products are sometimes singled out for abuse, and misinformation and false claims spread.

In Tokushima Prefecture, crickets were used in school lunches for the first time in Japan in November 2022, making national headlines while drawing curious interest from students.

The meal was provided by Gryllus Inc, a venture company in Tokushima city, Tokushima Prefecture, which used crickets in croquettes in a pulverized powdered form.

But earlier this year, Gryllus closed its lab for the development of food using crickets as the price of the ingredients used to feed crickets skyrocketed. It said cost-cutting would not cover the shortfall.

Additionally, the company said some people continue to feel a strong revulsion to the idea of eating the chirping bugs. "Complaints have poured in by phone, and it is making the situation really tough for us," a spokesperson for the company said.

In December 2020, Pasco Shikishima Corp, a major Japanese bread manufacturer based in Nagoya, launched its "Korogi Cafe" (Cricket Cafe) series, with crickets in a powdered form blended into bread or cake products, such as financiers, the popular flavored French cake.

The product, which was sold exclusively online, was conceived to ostensibly prepare for future food insecurity. It was well-received and sold out within two days of its launch, also garnering widespread media coverage.

But a debate about human bug consumption -- the practice known as entomophagy -- started on X in February 2023, sparking a firestorm at the company.

While some people calmly expressed opinions and made fact-based points, others commented that they were disconcerted to learn that Pasco products contained crickets, with one person saying for example, "It makes me not even want to buy their products anymore."

Another wrongly suggested that other products of the company might contain cricket powder and that it was not protecting consumers who might be allergic to the ingredient with appropriate labels.

Both claims were groundless, with the company later explaining that Cricket Cafe products were manufactured in a dedicated facility and that there was no possibility of cricket powder being mixed with other products or plans for future use in any other products.

Furthermore, Pasco said allergen warnings were clearly written on the packaging, asking consumers not to use the product if allergic to crustaceans such as crabs or shrimps, which have ingredients similar to crickets. It also clearly listed on the package cricket powder as one of the main ingredients.

There were also posts calling for boycotts of Pasco based on conspiracy theories and wild rumors, such as one person who questioned whether eating crickets might cause miscarriages in pregnant women. The Cricket Cafe series has since been discontinued.

In a 2013 report, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization recommended insect diets as a new source of protein. This is because with the expected continued growth of the world's population there are concerns that food will be in short supply.

The JMA Research Institute Inc., a Tokyo-based think tank, estimates that the global market for entomophagy will grow from about 7 billion yen ($47 million) in fiscal 2019 to 100 billion yen in fiscal 2025.

While many companies entered the market anticipating growth, success was not a forgone conclusion.

In January, Indetail, a startup involved in information technology that had also entered the cricket food business in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, was ordered by the Sapporo District Court to begin bankruptcy proceedings.

According to the Sapporo branch of credit research firm Teikoku Databank Ltd., sales of the company's cricket products failed to take off, causing a deterioration in financing for the operator. Total liabilities exceeded 200 million yen, including from its group companies.

In Japan, insects have long been traditionally eaten as a delicacy in some regions, such as a southern part of Nagano Prefecture.

However, there appears to have been a backlash against cricket-eating as the practice is unfamiliar to most people, who lack a sense of urgency about an impending food crisis. Experts suggest that overcoming the "ick factor" in cricket consumption will take more ingenuity on the part of the businesses.

"It's true that insects have high nutritional value. There is less resistance to utilizing insects in herbal medicine and supplements," said Tomohisa Ishikawa, director of research at Japan Research Institute Ltd., a private think tank in Tokyo.

But he added, "It would be better to develop technology for their utilization and apply it to food products so that it is ultimately more acceptable to consumers."







@Jackie San

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