Grub’s up?

ConBuggie BuggieCrisps, by Joram De Bock for gondola.be

A handful of peppered waxworms, burgers laced with buffalo worms, and croquettes with a hint of mealworm; these packages of insects are now available next to the salmon. Both are full of protein, but one still has a stigma.

“They look a bit greasy don’t they?” An older man standing next to me eyes the packet of waxworms with distrust.

Approximately two billion people already include insects in their daily food intake according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Which means that for 35% of the world population, munching on waxworms is just as normal as eating peanuts.

For the Netherlands however, this is a culinary experiment.

“It’s innovation,” Pieter Kuizenga, operational manager at the Jumbo Maripaan Group, told The Hook, “but also a responsibility.”

From the beginning of November, a select few Jumbo stores will stock ConBuggie’s products on their shelves, making them the first supermarket chain in the Netherlands to do so.

Eating insects – or ‘entomophagy’ – is becoming increasingly topical in light of a recent UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) statement on global nutrition. Within the next forty years, food production needs to increase by 70% to keep everyone fed.

Insects could prove to be a part of the solution.

Right now there are around two thousand species of insects that are eaten worldwide. On top of that, the production process is more environmentally friendly than producing meat. Eating the little buggers would tackle both food scarcity and global warming.

It’s healthy too. These insects contain just as much protein as animal meat and are significantly lower in fats.

It sounds ideal, but in Western societies still very much taboo.

“That first time, it’s difficult,” explained Marian Peters, chief executive of New Generation Nutrition (NGN), a consultancy company specialized in insect product development, in an interview at the European Report on Development last year. “People are aware that you can eat them, but then there is the first step to take to put it in your mouth.”

The ‘yuck’ factor, as Peters calls it, is the reason why Jumbo added ConBuggie to their store shelves: It is all about lowering the threshold and getting people to at least give insects a try.

It is also one of the reasons why the supermarket is only introducing them in Groningen and Haren, at least for the moment. From 2015 onwards all Jumbo stores will sell the insect snacks.

“We chose Groningen because it has a lot of students,“ Roelof Krikken, a store manager in Groningen, told The Hook. “They are more inclined to stay open minded and try it.”

But there is a flaw in this reasoning.

Take for example ConBuggie’s Buggie Crisps. A package contains a meagre thirty-five grams of waxworms and is sold as a snack. However, one portion is being sold for almost seven euros a pop. For that amount of money customers can get a lot more peanuts.

Kuizenga recognized that the prices are high, “it’s a supply and demand case – right? When more people buy the product the prices should go down.”

But it seems unlikely that students will opt for the more expensive and odd-looking snack, even if they are more open-minded.

Back in Jumbo the old man decides to grab a free sample, despite his initial suspicion.

“Not as greasy as I expected,” he tells me. “But I think it is really expensive.” He points at the packets of fish next to the free sample, “and, don’t forget, fish has a lot of protein too.”

 

by Céline Cornelis

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