There’s a bit of a buzz around entomophagy (eating insects) at the moment.
In the last couple of weeks, you may have seen Bug Farm Foods open a UK first insect protein R&D lab in West Wales and launch VEXo, a meat alternative product made from insect and vegetable protein (featured on Good Morning Britain).
You may also have seen the launch of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Industrial Strategy Challenge (ISCF) food production systems competition, which includes insect protein in scope.
What’s behind the increasing interest in entomophagy? Let’s look at VEXo in more detail:
VEXo was developed by St Davids-based Bug Farm Foods in response to a 2017 Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition by Welsh Government, which set the challenge of tackling childhood obesity.
Companies were invited to provide solutions which focused on reducing the levels of salt, sugar and saturated fats, as well as increasing the levels of vitamins, minerals and fibre in food and drink for children, whilst also driving down costs.
Working together to tackle childhood obesity
Childhood obesity is a significant UK challenge, and addressing it will have a positive effect on the long-term health of the individuals and the huge associated healthcare costs, hence Innovate UK provided additional funding to the competition; a great example of UK Government and Welsh Government funding working together to tackle a common problem.
Potential solutions from two award winning Welsh companies
Two Welsh companies, Bug Farm Foods and Pennotec (Pwllheli), were awarded funding to develop their solutions; Pennotec worked with Bangor University’s Biocomposites Development Centre to develop MilaCel, a fat-replacing ingredient made from the cider industry’s apple waste.
Bug Farm Foods developed VEXo. Taste and perception tests of products made with VEXo proved really positive with children – there aren’t many children who don’t like bolognaise ! It is, however, the nutritional value and the environmental implications that astounded me:
- Insects require 12-25 times less feed compared to cattle, and 50% less than chickens, to produce the equivalent amount of protein
- It takes about 22,000 litres of water to produce 1 kg of intensively-farmed beef, whereas it takes just 1-10 litres of water to produce 1 kg high-welfare edible insect protein
- VEXo bolognaise contains almost 80% less saturated fat, and almost 40% more protein than the equivalent meat bolognaise, whilst delivering more than 50% of a child’s recommended intake of iodine, phosphorus, riboflavin and zinc
Tasty, nutritional and sustainable
The nutritional benefits are clear, the sustainability case is strong, and children seem to love the food (along with current and former Innovate UK staff, including Ruth McKernan, Ian Campbell, Jon Hazell and myself).
If it looks like meat bolognaise, tastes like meat bolognaise and is much better for you, would you be convinced to try eating insect protein?
Expertise at a local level
Pennotec and Bug Farm Foods are great examples of innovative UK businesses, using their knowledge and understanding to help tackle societal challenges and, in doing so, grow the local economy.
The two companies have developed these products using facilities and expertise at local Universities and Welsh Food Technology Centres.
Small businesses with a huge impact
Pennotec and Bug Farm Foods are very small businesses, but the products they’re developing could have a huge societal impact, and they’re not alone – the UK is home to thousands of amazing small businesses, and countless world-leading researchers and facilities.
Support and funding
UKRI exists to fund the UK’s best and brightest researchers, and to ensure that research can drive UK economic growth through business.
If you’re a public sector body looking to solve challenges with innovative ideas please get in touch to discuss how SBRI could also help you.
If you working at the cutting edge of technology, developing new products, processes or business models, then why not take a look at the support and funding available from Innovate UK and Welsh Government (see below for links)? We’d love to help.
You can go to the Innovate UK website