A category with wings

Could edible insects be the future of the protein market? Matt Chittock finds out…

In the UK consumers are packing in the protein like never before. According to Mintel, the average Briton gets through 25.1kg of the stuff a year – a rise of 2.2% since 2013.

The trend, which started with sports nutrition, has quickly grown to embrace the mainstream as big manufacturers realize they can convert protein into pounds. In fact, from cereals to chocolate bars, many of the new releases found in supermarkets have a ‘protein-added’ tag.

Many natural manufacturers and stores must be peeved that the mass market has once again muscled in on a trend they first broke. But, as ever, they’re busy doubling down on innovation to create the next wave of novel products.

And right now, you can’t get much more innovative than edible insects. Consumers might be squeamish (and who could blame them?), yet there’s no deny-ing they represent a sustainable source of natural protein that’s arguably more ethical than factory farming.

The ick factor 
This emerging category has probably won more column inches than sales so far. To change this, manufacturers will first have to find a way to help shoppers get beyond the ick factor.

“As you can imagine, the feedback is mixed on first approach, as entomophagy [eating insects] is such a new concept in the West,” says Poppy Reid, marketing manager at edible insect pioneers Eat Grub.

“We invest a lot of time in the educational aspects. These include why insects are the food of the future, how innovations in farming can reclaim 30% of the earth’s land surface and why insects are number one for the planet and your body.

“Once we get that part started, retailers are more open to trying it. If we can just get people to get a cricket in their mouths, that’s most of the battle won!”

Reid says that some of this category is about adventurous chefs learning how to cook with eye-catching new ingredients. However, the everyday consumer market is also there too.

To win over these shoppers, Eat Grub is busy designing products that have more in common with Innocent and Nakd than what’s on offer from your local live bait shop. For instance, its bars come in three appealing flavours – Cacao & Coconut, Orange & Red Berries and Blueberry & Almond – which only briefly refer to their ‘cricket-powered’ protein source without making it the whole focus of the packaging.

This approach has helped it win listings with the likes of Planet Organic and Ocado. Plus, deals with catering companies are helping get it into staff
canteens in influential offices like Twitter, Google and Buzzfeed – enabling Eat Grub to reach its target audience of millennial ‘early-adopters and innovators’.

Feed the world
Further afield, the Netherlands is also on the brand’s radar. “We launched in Finland in January, in 86 stores, which was really exciting. Now, they want us in all 366 SOK stores, which is equivalent to our Tesco,” says Reid.

Edible insects might seem shocking to some people, but Reid insists that the trend will one day be massive, not because of consumers’ choice, but out of necessity. “With an ever-growing and demanding population, we have to start working together now and work on innovative ways to feed so many mouths,” she says.

“The idea of eating insects in the West is new right now, but over time it will become normalized – mostly out of necessity. We are trying to formulate tasty and accessible ways to get people loving insects and celebrating them as the original superfood that they are, before it has to become a way of life.”

Meanwhile, back in the pre-apocalyptic present, there’s still plenty of excitement about more traditional protein sources on the natural health shop floor.

Mindful protein
Marie Longman, owner of Peak Health Food in Rugeley, Staffordshire, maintains that her customers are after more than just standard products that offer a huge hit of muscle-boosting powder. Instead, she says that they’re seeking out what she calls ‘mindful protein’.

“I find that they are basically looking for something different from the supermarkets; something more mindful. These are the products that don’t have any additives or sugar, and are just more natural.”

For her that means stocking key products like the Pulsin Protein Powders, Plantforce Rice Protein and Golden Greens Organic Hemp Protein.

“We tend to sell to the more mindful people who are looking for advice on nutrition as well as the product,” says Rugeley, adding: “So, it’s people who do lots of yoga, or endurance athletes, because they want better quality protein than just standard. They’re also grateful for guidance on what’s best for them.”

Closing the gender gap
Away from the powders, Dr Zak’s is one of the pioneers of high-protein food, cementing its position with the launch of its protein-enhanced bread back in 2013.

Ray Brilus, marketing manager for the brand, says that the category has changed massively over the last five years. What started as a concept of purely functional products for bodybuilders has evolved into a market where taste and texture matter as much as protein quotient.

“Once a male-dominated sector, protein consumption is now going mainstream and we are looking to adapt our brand to capitalize on this trend,” he says. “When we created our first product – our high protein bread – it was all about how much protein we could pack and push the product to the limits before taste was compromised. Now our market is almost split 50/50 male/female, and the demand for the highest protein product has subsided in place of quality, taste and texture.”

And research backs this gender-change around protein. According to Mintel, in 2015 only 7% of women used protein powders. In 2017, this more than doubled to 18%. Brilus is keen to reach this growing market with the right high-quality offer. Yet, he warns there’s still a danger that the protein category is becoming too diluted with low-quality products.

“Today I think there are too many companies jumping on the bandwagon and just adding protein for the sake of it. Consumer confusion will ensue, and a race to the bottom in price may be detrimental to the end consumer as they will be eating poor-quality ingredients.”

Elsewhere, as sports nutrition products get closer to ‘real food’, the wholefood stalwarts are out to win market share by aligning themselves with sport and nutrition. For example, Whole Earth is currently partnering with the likes of the British Triathlon Foundation, Reebok and England Netball for its Nature’s Wonder-Fuel strategy. The brand has also expanded its protein-rich selection to include a range of health store-friendly Power Balls.

“Consumers are increasingly looking for foods they can eat on the move which is why we launched our new Power Balls,” says Kirstie Hawkins, brand
controller at Whole Earth. “Each Power Ball pack of five bite-sized snacks contains simple, natural ingredients including peanut butter, gluten-free oats, roasted peanuts and dried fruit – and nothing at all artificial.”

Plant power
Another swift sea-change in the protein market is the rise of vegan-friendly protein products. Traditionally, powders have been powered by whey protein, but now the onus is on brands to provide alternatives that aren’t sourced from animals.

One key ingredient is pea protein isolate, which is turning up as a staple in all sorts of protein powders. Benefits include the fact that pea protein supplies the body with a sustained source of nutrients and is particularly high in branched-chain amino acids.

For Marie Longman, vegan protein forms a ‘massive part’ of what flies off her shelves. “People are looking for extra protein, but they don’t want it sourced from animal products anymore,” she explains. “It’s especially popular with those who think hard about where their protein is sourced from. Plus, many of the protein people are into exercise, and that kind of thing goes hand-in-hand with being vegan.”


Protien Products

High Protein Cookies & Clusters

Dr Zak’s Ltd
Tel: 020 3070 2992
E-mail:  [email protected]

Dr Zak’s, a leading protein foods company, have just made healthy protein snacking a lot easier. The introduction of their High Protein Cookies, which pack 15g protein, are low sugar and have a sumptuous soft baked texture, have achieved the unthinkable – making cookies guilt free.  In addition, their Protein Clusters, made with pea protein, offer a crunchy high protein snack with under 150kcal in a pack. Like the rest of their range, Dr Zak’s new products are palm oil free, are certified Halal, and dependent on flavour, are suitable for vegans and/or vegetarians.


Eat Grub Ltd

Tel: 0203 633 5771
E-mail:  [email protected]

Eat Grub Cricket Powered Energy Bars / Eat Grub Crunchy Roasted Crickets / Eat Grub Ready-To-Cook Insects

EAT GRUB is a boundary-breaking new sustainable food brand that aims to revolutionise Western food culture by introducing insects as a staple part of it. Insects are a tasty and highly nutritious source of food and with a diverse range of delicious products including their award winning cricket powered energy bars, Eat Grub are here to help introduce everyone to the joys of insect eating (or entomophagy to those in know).


Essential Organic Peanut Butter

Essential Trading Co-operative
Tel:  0117 958 3550
E-mail:  [email protected]

Essential Organic Peanut Butter is free from added oils including palm oil, and is made purely from lightly-toasted  peanuts.  All organic from pod to peanut, high quality,  GM-free ingredients and as little processing as possible make Essential Peanut Butter an alternative to commercial brands.  Available in Smooth and Crunchy varieties, which either come lightly salted or with no salt. Peanut butter contains a high amount of protein. Proteins are broken down into amino acids, which are then utilised in each and every cell for repairing and building the body.  Good job that peanut butter is so delicious and versatile, then!


Garden of Life- Raw Organic Fit French Vanilla Protein

Kinetic Natural Products Distributor
Tel: 08450 725 825
E-mail:  [email protected]

Raw Organic Fit Vanilla is a certified USDA organic, Non-GMO verified, vegan high protein powder specifically designed to support weight management. Its unique content of clinically studied ingredients including Svetol® Green Coffee Bean Extract, Ashwagandha, Cinnamon and Baobab help provide dietary and exercise support, balance blood sugar levels and help you look great! Offering 28g of protein per serving with no artificial ingredients, it is tested and trusted as a clean supplement for competitive sports. Produced at low temperatures, preserving complete amino acid integrity, it is easy to digest with 13 organic sprouted grains, seeds, legumes; 3 billion CFU live bacteria and 13 enzymes.


Pulsin Peanut Choc Protein Booster

Tel: 01452 729 000
E-mail:  [email protected]

Increasing your protein intake on the go is now a lot easier and tastier thanks to the launch of Pulsin’s new Peanut Choc Protein Booster.  Containing a blend of whey, pea and rice protein to provide all the essential amino acids your body needs, this bar gives you the perfect protein boost for pre or post workout. The blend of both whey and plant-based protein and high fibre content helps keep you feeling fuller for longer and work to keep you energised between meals and on the go. All the Pulsin Protein Booster range are made with premium, natural ingredients selected for maximum nutritional benefit and great taste, plus we cold press them to provide optimum nutritional value.


TREK Cocoa Raisin Protein Flapjack

Natural Balance Foods
Tel: 0345 862 5340
E-mail: [email protected]

TREK is Raisin the bar with it’s latest addition to the range – Cocoa Raisin.  Combining a traditional flapjack flavour of sweet spicy cinnamon and juicy raisins, topped with a layer of cocoa making a truly wholesome, filling snack.

TREK Cocoa Raisin protein flapjacks are made with gluten-free oats and 9g of plant-protein for reliable, long-lasting energy; ideal for an energy boost during exercise or as a 3pm energy-slump saviour. TREK protein flapjacks are available in a range of 7 delicious and filling flavours.