The 20th of September 2017 big news came out: Evira, the Finnish FDA, changed its interpretation of certain EU-level regulations to allow the sale of insect products for human food and for animal feed in Finland. Before the change, all insect products sold for human consumption were banned and there were serious restrictions on insect feed for farmed animals. This change means the end of the years-long waiting period and the Finnish Insect for Food and Feed (IFF) companies have been able to start selling full speed.
The legal environment is one the risks that every company must consider carefully in their business plan regardless the industry they are operating in. In general, a hostile legal environment is seen as a big minus and something that is difficult to change, especially in short term.
No matter how unlikely and how difficult it was considered to be, the Finnish IFF- startups were able to lobby the authorities to change their viewpoint and open the markets. Similar changes are expected all over the Western world, but Finland changed it’s interpretation now sooner than others.
How exactly the Finnish startups spurred the change and how can you do the same in your home country and your industry?
Positive Relationship with Media
The hype around rearing insects for food and feed started around 2011 when FAO started to promote insects as a sustainable choice over conventional animal protein sources. The media attention reached Finland as well and since has been featured multiple times on all major media platforms. Finnish start-ups started to emerge some years after 2011 and since they have featured the articles and news regularly as well.
The IFF- industry is quite unique in many ways and this is one of the major reasons why media has covered so much of it nationally, but all the startups have been not only accepting invites for public speaking and giving interviews, but also reaching out for reporters. What has been great to notice on many occasions I have been asked by other players in the industry to cover for them for e.g public speaking if there has been a double booking. This tells of shared understanding that raising public’s understanding and awareness is very important, even if the publicity points goes to the neighbor company. For emerging industries many times the competition is not the companies doing similar things than you, but the companies you coming to steal the market from. This essential idea is widely spread in the small Finnish industry and now we all share the fruits of co-operation.
Make Regulators Work for You
Some years ago, I discussed with Entocube, one of the Finnish startups. I criticized their approach to bring end-user products to market, even though their primary business, the insect farming technology, had at that point many open questions. Now looking back, Entocube’s vision to raise awareness about their company and industry by their clever “kitchen decoration products” (insect food was banned) was very unselfish and brave, but also the right thing to do. By pushing the limits of the regulating bodies and sparking even more discussion with their products in media gave the initiative for Evira to start looking seriously at their approach to the topic.
Above is a picture of the “Cricket Jar”- kitchen decoration jar. Not for consumption! A great way to raise awareness and push the limits. This product forced the regulatory body to react.
There was no common plan or organization
What was not done is equally important to what was done. Finnish companies have not formed a registered association, but what we have shared so far is a common goal and modern perception of markets. Also, it is worth noticing that there are no Finnish members in the global association of IFF-companies IPIFF. It tells that organic communication from different entities was, at least in this case, the key to build up political pressure that leads to this change. Could it be that when the communication is natural and organic instead of designed and always politically correct, it is something that interests the media and the big audience more?
Three learning points
Every country is their own case, but I see that there are three points to learn from this case.
- Raise public’s awareness. This is the first step for people to start accepting the idea of something new and to introduce wider pressure for the public sector to start thinking of the current policies.
- Force the regulating bodies to react. By pushing the boundaries, you force lawmakers and regulators to draw the lines for the first time. What is most important here is that the decisions must be justified. If there is clear lack of regulation, the wheels will start to move within the public sector.
- Co-operation of the industry. It is essential that the companies operating in the field do not fall into the trap of thinking that they are each other’s enemies. Even though they are working in the same field, the growth in nascent markets is gained from the growing market, not by winning market share from the competition. When the common goals are understood by the industry players they can work together and achieve bigger targets that they could ever be done alone.
Finnish IFF-industry in 2017: