Looking to the future: are insect drinks set to be the next big thing?

Three delicious looking burgers on a cutting board
© Bugfoundation

You certainly cannot accuse the non-alcoholic beverage industry of shunning innovation. Innovative sweetening concepts, beverage creations with superfruits or superseeds and new color concepts – there is innovation everywhere you look. Nevertheless, the question arises: Is this innovative enough or could innovation reach new levels in the future? Perhaps in the form of insect drinks?

To date, foods containing edible insects are not only uncommon in our latitudes, but also take a lot of getting used to for most people. This could quickly change, as a new EU regulation on “Novel Food” came into effect on January 1, 2018. This includes insects. In the future, as this area is now regulated, it will no longer be the member states themselves but rather the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that will decide on the approval of insects or products containing insects as food – on request centrally for all member states. Decisions should be made within a few months, and then, subject to approval, the path to commercialization will be opened up. Different approaches within the European Union and the numerous requirements that previously applied in Germany alone are now a thing of the past.

Overcoming aversions: known anchors help

Given that there are approximately 2,000 edible insects worldwide and that eating insects is completely natural for around two billion people (mainly in Africa, South America and Asia), a large market for insect-based food could develop in Europe once consumers have overcome their dislike for creepy-crawlies. Professor Guido Ritter, who researches food trends at Münster University of Applied Sciences, agrees: “Eating a whole worm is psychologically much more difficult for us than a ground meatball with sauce,” he says, adding: “A change in eating habits requires a known anchor, to which the new food is coupled, such as roasted mealworms in chocolate or burgers made partly from insects.” He predicts that consumers in European countries will gradually become increasingly used to insect meat. He points to sushi as a good example of how habituation can work. When it came onto European markets in the 1980s, many consumers found raw fish disgusting. Today, sushi is standard fare on numerous menus.

Insect drinks: the environmentally friendly and healthy alternative

The same thing could therefore also happen with insects because the health benefits of consuming them are already clear. They are rich in high-quality proteins, contain unsaturated fatty acids, iron, minerals and vitamins, and, by kilo of meat, require significantly less feed and water to rear than chickens, cattle or pigs. They also produce a comparatively small amount of greenhouse gases.

Pioneering efforts around the world

There are now even insect cookbooks available in German, and some interesting food products containing insects can already be found on the German market. The Bux Burger, for example, is a burger patty consisting of about 30 percent buffalo worms. The start-up Bugfoundation launched the product in Belgium and the Netherlands in 2015. Since the beginning of the year, it has also been available in the German market, where it has a predominantly retail-based presence. Among other things, founders Baris Özel and Max Krämer point to their huge success this year at the International Green Week, where they sold more than 5,000 of their insect burgers to trade fair visitors in just a few days. Also of interest is the insect pasta of Plumento Foods, a start-up specializing in the development of foods made from alternative proteins – insect proteins in particular insect. The insect pasta is currently available to buy both online and on the start-up shelf of the Metro subsidiary Emmas Enkel in Düsseldorf. Then there is Swarm Protein, a protein bar made of crickets that comes in various flavors and has been co-developed by a designer, an economist and a nutritionist. Also exciting is an idea that comes from Switzerland. Under the motto The Future Sausage, product designer Carolin Niebling from Lausanne teamed up with a butcher to conjure up delicacies that include a meat spread made from insect meal and tonka beans. Speaking of Switzerland: In addition to insect burgers, Coop has already been selling meatballs made from mealworms in several of its stores for almost a year now.

If you look at the German food service market, you can even already find exciting insect creations. The Australian Bar & Kitchen in Nuremberg offers a variety of grasshopper-based appetizers, for example, while crispy insect toppings are on the menu at Seidels Salatbar in Ludwigsburg. And “der verrückte Eismacher” in Munich serves up its Stracciawurmella (mealworms) and Flip-Heueis (roasted grasshoppers) ice cream delicacies.

No longer just a vision: insect cocktails

It is not only in the food industry that insects are taking off. The beverage sector is also embracing this trend, though not yet when it comes to non-alcoholic drinks. Critter Bitters is the name given to a range of cocktail bitters distilled from roasted crickets – a drink developed by Lucy Knops and Julia Plevin. “Unlike other bitters that go better with light or clear alcohol such as gin, ours have a very strong taste. So they blend perfectly with bourbon, rum, or simply any alcohol that’s is a bit stronger,” says Knops. According to the entrepreneurs, the bitters are very popular with bartenders and chefs. According to Knops – and here we come full circle – one reason for this could be that insect drinks are more likely to be accepted by consumers because they cannot see the insects.

The next step: non-alcoholic drinks?

For this reason, the question remains as to whether this would be the right time for the non-alcoholic beverage industry to start getting involved in insect-based concoctions. Especially since the market for food containing insects in Germany and Europe is currently still very manageable and people here are not even beginning to talk about insect drinks. In any case, it pays to be an innovator in the non-alcoholic beverage industry. And once the idea, the strong will to implement it and the belief in success have been born, then any outstanding number of aspects, such as the best possible implementation with existing plant technology, marketing concept or even predestined sales channels, can surely be tackled successfully.

Friederike Arndt

As a freelance trade journalist, Friederike Arndt is regarded as an expert in the area of beverages. She spent a long time writing for, inter alia, the trade magazines Getränkeindustrie (beverage industry) and Getränkefachgroßhandel (beverage wholesale trade). On the blog, she reports on the latest trends and innovations in the field of non-alcoholic beverages.