Two Clean Meat Companies Lead the Way on Social Media

A while back we took a look with Underhood how insect companies are doing online on different social media platforms and the results were mostly appalling. The statistics show most companies are lazy to reach out to their audiences. You can find the article here. Underhood (underhood.co) is a Finnish startup that is measuring social performance of thousands of brands. Currently, there are about ten thousand companies, organizations or other brands analyzed daily on the service.

Another emerging new food business is Clean Meat, meat produced in bioreactors without the need of rearing and slaughtering of animals.  Clean meat- industry has a lot in common with insect-for-and-feed business: Both are high protein food sources that are offering a more sustainable alternative for traditional animal agriculture. Moreover, both are unknown to the wide audience and are facing the challenge of how to convince people of the safety and benefits their products offer.

Here below are 10 clean meat companies ranked by Underhood. Brands are analyzed by their social performance (language analysis, engagement numbers, and visibility) and given a social score. The scale is from 1 to 10 and you can click on any brand to see the full social analysis. The score is updated daily, the data shown below is from 11th of November 2018.

top 10 clean meat

Underhood’s ranking as in 11th of November 2018

The two largest companies in the field are also the best-performing companies in social media. Scoring above six tells of a good social media strategy that is being executed consistently. Just is updating their social media channels almost daily and they have a good number of likes on Facebook; over 300.000. Looking at Just’s numbers it can be seen that Just is very consistent how to they are communicating, but what doesn’t work so well is that people are not reacting to the posts.

just

What is an interesting difference between Just and Memphis Meats is that Just is succeeding nicely in Facebook, while Memphis’s most successful posts are on Twitter. Twitter is nice and good to have, but Facebook is clearly the most important platform that should be priority number one.

Looking closer to New Age Meats- company interesting things can be found that others could learn from. From the top ten posts that have collected most likes, shares, and comments nine were done by New Age Meats.

new age

Top 4 posts in the past 30 days from the 10 listed companies as in 11th of November 2018. All four were posted by New Age Meats.

Where New Age Meats is not performing well is how they are responding to comments:

new score

At the other end of the scale, things look pretty abysmal and it is obvious that social media is not considered important at all. Aleph farms- company doesn’t even have Facebook or Twitter- page.

As we see it, it is crucial that brands of this new industry get active on social. There are a couple of companies doing it well, but the majority are not doing their part. There is no way we can convince people to take on new food habits if we do not spread the word in the most personal media, meaning Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms. It seems the industry players are not taking full advantage of the excellent and cost-effective opportunity to market their new and exciting products. The revolution needs to have evangelists!

 

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How We Changed the Legal Environment of Our Startups

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 to cover for 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 had a discussion with Entocube, one of the Finnish startups. I criticized their approach to bring to market end-user products, even though their main 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 on their approach to the topic.

sirkkapurkki

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. 

We did not have common plan or organization

What was not done is equally important with 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.

To me, this 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 interest 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 more wide pressure for the public sector to start thinking of the current policies.
  • Force the regulating bodies to react. Especially in a field that was never been though of carefully by the lawmakers by pushing the boundaries, you force them 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:

Industry Insights, Interview with Ilkka Taponen

The interview below was done by International Insect Centre and published in their newsletter in May 2017.

After completing an internship at Ynsect involving his thesis paper titled Supply Chain Risk Management in Entomology Farms Case: High scale production of human food and animal feed, Ilkka developed a keen interest in the insect industry, setting up a blog dedicated to developments in this sector. Combined, the success of his blog as well as his activities in market potential projects for insect products has given Ilkka significant insights into the current market for insects, especially in scaling up production in the novel foods sector. He is now employed at Green & Gold Foods based in Finland, developing alternative protein products for the consumer markets.

Speaking about the growing interest in the insect sector, Ilkka explains that since news of new EU regulations has been clarified, interest in this business has greatly increased. “Last summer there was a real lack of contact on the blog, but since November I have received a lot more emails from interested persons, possibly because news of EU regulation [regarding insects in feed and food] has become clearer”, explaining that this could’ve rejuvenated interest in the sector.

However, although growth seems to be positive, Ilkka explains that the role that insects will play in the future is a little more obscure; “It is hard to say; some companies are working on feed whilst others say that there is no sense in this, with food being the main goal. Considering that these are often companies with significant resources behind them, they are approaching this business very differently so it is impossible to say who is right and who is wrong.” Having worked both in the insect protein sector and the plant-based protein sector, Ilkka points out that insects must compete with plant-based alternatives and that this may result in them having more potential for feed applications than food based. “For example, one place in which insects are clearly the best option is in animal feed. However, taking salmon farming as an example, the demand for the quantities that are needed to enter the market are huge, whilst the profit margins are very low. It’s a difficult combination.” Ilkka explains that economies of scale will be needed in order to bring the cost of insect-based feeds down. “Increasing the scale and automating the process is key, but it’s difficult to say how long it will take for the costs of fish raised on insect feed to meet the price of conventional products.”

Another factor that is also involved in the development of the insect sector is risk. According to Ilkka, due to the novelty nature of insects as an ingredient in both feed and food, many companies are reluctant to carry out R&D using them due to the risks that this can entail. This is further amplified by the current lack of insect suppliers; “this makes it very risk intensive for companies to introduce insect ingredients because suppliers end up with all of the [negotiation] power.” Continuing, Ilkka points out that there also needs to be research into the end consumers that would be interested in buying sustainably raised fish fed on insects. “Who is going to buy these products? Generally, the people that would be interested in buying these products will most likely choose a plant-based alternative.” Ilkka explains that therefore, fish fed on insects cannot be sold based on this value added sustainability aspect alone. This suggests that in order to be viable, insect fed fish must become the ‘norm’ and not a speciality product. “The fish farmer has to pay 5% extra [to use insects], as do their clients, having a knock-on effect down the supply chain. The real question is; are consumers willing to pay for this?”

However, with regards to feed production in particular, insects have one major benefit over many non-fishmeal alternatives; they are live animals. This makes them suitable for feeds aimed at carnivorous and omnivorous animals, an advantage that plant-based alternatives cannot compete with, according to Ilkka. “I think that this is the key that will determine the future. This is one of the only places where using animals [for feed] is very advantageous; for feeding other animals. In this situation, insects are most definitely the most sustainable choice.”

Continuing on the subject of sustainability, Ilkka clarifies his thoughts on insect proteins. “We must also take plant-based proteins into consideration, especially when looking into feed conversion rates. As I have said, insects are the best option for animal-protein based feed, but for food purposes, plant based proteins offer the same benefits but in a more culturally acceptable and cheaper way at this moment.” Despite this, Ilkka remains positive that there will be significant growth within the sector for edible insects, however compared to alternatives, it is uncertain whether they will be able to compete long term. As for the animal feed sector, Ilkka expects that insects will play an important role in the market with regards to the future of sustainable animal feed, beginning in the aquaculture sector.

Thank you IIC and Poppy Eyre for putting my thoughts nicely into text! Visit IIC at http://www.insectcentre.com/

Cricket Is Just a Better Chicken

One of the main arguments insect food companies bring out in their communication is comparing the environmental impact of  insects to conventional meats like beef, pork, fish and chicken. There is no denying that insects are clearly the best choice from this group, but in most cases comparing insects to other animals is not relevant.

paras

The example picture above is from LEAP Pure Cricket Powder- Facebook page. 

The most relevant category to place insects is not “the environmental impact of animal based foods”, but wider “environmental impact of high protein foods” that includes a large variety of plant based foods as well.

In this more relevant category, whether the comparison is about consumption of water, creation of green house gases or feed conversion rate, crickets show up just as a better chicken. From environment’s perspective best options are plant based options like pulses and plant based protein products. Additionally, plant based proteins clear out of many other issues like ethical questions related to animal farming, use of antibiotics and cultural acceptance.

It is important to understand that we are now talking about industrial scale farming where using of bio waste as insect feed is not possible for multiple reasons. For low scale farming where using of bio waste is possible insects are excellent option even over plants.

You might have noticed that in the given infograph it is said that insect consume less water than pulses. This might be true, but it depends on how the water is delivered to crickets. Is it open water or through feed? When comparing the water consumption of animals the combined impact of drinking water and the water used in the farming of the feed should be considered.

There are plenty of reasons to eat insects, but if you are looking for the best environmental choice, industrially farmed insects are not the one.

Further reading:

Starter Kit for Ento-Entrepreneurs

Lately, quite a few people have reached out for me for tips for starting a new Insect for Food and Feed- companies. I am very happy to see the industry growing and it is my pleasure to help out. To make your starting easier I have here collected some links and tips on how to get started and how to avoid some of the pitfalls.

I believe strongly in the Lean movement, not only in daily work but also larger projects that starting a new company is. To prevent unnecessary work and loss of resources, start by collecting data and objectively evaluating the potential of your business plan.  To learn more about Lean and modern business management check out the great Lean Startup- book by Eric Ries.

Study the literature. Unfortunately, there are only very few publications on the business side of IFF- business, biological knowledge can be found much easier. My thesis that I wrote in 2015 is still one of few publications looking at the production and supply chain side of this specific industry. The thesis comes with full list of references that can you use to dig deeper into all the discussed topics. Here below are some links I recommend you to read. Other than the links listed here you might want to check also the Directory from the menu bar, from there you can find all my blog posts e.g about how to choose the best species to farm.

Get connected with insect entrepreneurs. The largest database online with contact information can be found from this website, just click the “Entomology Company Database” from the menu bar. I also recommend that you will contact your local association of IFF companies, here are some links:

By getting connected you will get essential tips from more experienced people and you can team up to work on topics that you the concerns about (health of genetic pool, fighting horizontal integration issues etc).

Contact your local Food Safety Authority. In the USA it is the FDA, in EU- level its EFSA. In other words, the one that interprets the national laws regarding food and feed. They are there to serve you and they will tell you the status of insect food and feed in your environment. A nice collection of the legal status’ can be found here.

Stay up to date. The following links are for news sites and social media channels that keep you up to date with the latest news in the field.

  • 4ento is a news center for everything around the topic.
  • Robert Nathan Allen is the founder Little Herds- association. Follow him on Twitter for the latest especially in North America.
  • Food Navigator is news center for Food & Beverage industry, follows closely also IFF- industry.
  • All About Feed is similar to Food Navigator, just with the feed aspect.
  • Facebook-group Food Insect Newsletter.

Database Analysis; The Chosen Species

I published my Entomology Company Database in this website about one week ago. I already got a lot of positive feedback and also people informed me of missing companies and mistakes, thank you for that! I will keep on updating the database from now on, if you spot a line that needs updating, let me know!

There are many ways to look at the data and I believe it can be used to serve multiple purposes, but what I will do here is to paint a picture of the insect species that are reared by the industry and what can we conclude from the findings.

Database analysis; The Chosen Species

To get started I first filtered out all companies that are not active. Then I selected companies that are involved in farming.  Also, I filtered out companies whose species are unknown.  This leaves us 69 companies (Note! I am using the database file version 08, uploaded on 14th of January).

Point 1. Most companies focus only on one species

First thing we can learn from this is that vast majority of companies, 43 out of 69, are focused only on one species. Putting the company’s focus to only one species brings many positives effects: R&D resources are better used, hardware investments and inventory carrying costs are lower. Also, benefits of economies of scale can be reached easier. There are negative sides as well; Focusing only on one species means higher environmental and supply risks. What if the chosen species are not among the most popular species when the industry grows? Or even worse, what if the species are not in the list of approved species when the legislation is going through big changes?

More on this you can read from my blog 5 Questions an Investor Should Ask Before Investing into a Insect Farm. https://ilkkataponen.com/2015/06/20/5-questions-an-investor-should-ask-before-investing-to-a-insect-farm/

Four companies have chosen the path of two species that might be a way to control the risks, but in the same time keep the costs low. The companies are Ynsect, Ofbug, Big Cricket Farms and Micronutris.

When looking at the “Multiple species” companies 12 of out 23 are companies that mainly focus on biocontrol or pet food manufacturing. When working on these segments of insect farming the higher production costs and loss of the benefits of economies of scale is justifiable as the companies get better price for their product. This is because their selling unit is rather pieces than kilos.  They operate in the a high-end segment, while when producing for food or feed the companies are competing e.g with soy bean that is extremely cheap.

Point 2. The most popular species

Looking at the most popular species is not easy as many companies talk only about “crickets” instead of the actual species of crickets. All the cricket companies make total number of 19. The black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) farming companies are 21. Maybe surprisingly only seven companies are involved mainly with mealworm or lesser mealworm. Of course some of the “Multiple species” companies are rearing these as well.

Point 3. The lone wolves

Two companies stand out with the selected species: Steak Traz Traz are the only one to choose Grasshoppers so far and Fly Farm Systems only one with Musca Domestica. Being the only raises few issues and increases supply risks. How come these companies have chosen a different answer than others? Do they know something that majority does not, and are they really the one with the better option?  Surely every company is their own individual case and they could justify their chosen species from production and business perspective today, but the in the future the case will be different. One reason is because of the environmental risk explained in Point 1. The biggest risk is not the environmental, but the supply risk that is very significant in the case of the lone wolves. Companies rearing e.g the most popular species black soldier fly will benefit from the wide vertical integration that they build together with other similar companies. This will not only bring security against the supply risk of the company but benefits in increased sales as the demand risk is reduced for the downstream of the logistic chain.

More on the supply risk briefly from my presentation here: https://ilkkataponen.com/2015/10/29/presentation-in-insect-business-and-research-meeting-in-seinajoki-finland/

Or with detail from my thesis here: https://ilkkataponen.com/2015/05/20/thesis-supply-chain-risk-management-in-entomology-farms/

 

Sending Unannounced Live Insect Shipments Is a Really Bad Idea

A vast majority of logistics companies do not accept live insects on board. The reason is that even though insects have very different requirements than e.g mammals during transportation, they fall under the same category of “live animals”. Live animals mean extra work, extra cost and especially extra risk and for these reasons the logistics companies have chosen this policy.

In Europe live animals are declined by at least the following major companies: TNT, FedEx, UPS, DHL, Schenker. Some companies have exceptions if the transportation happens within a country or if airplanes are not used. For example Matkahuolto company in Finland allows ground transportation, but only within the country. What is interesting is that FedEx is doing live insect transportation within different states in USA, but not in the EU.

So if the policies are so strict, how come companies are able to send live insects internationally?

First of all the large global companies do not have consistent approach to the relatively new demand. This we can see from the example of FedEx and their differences in EU and USA. When the logistics companies do not have clear answer, it is possible for some departments or local offices to go around the official policies.

The second reason and the most common way to send live insects is to send them unannounced meaning that the insects are packed and sent without telling what is actually inside the box. The Finnish national post office Posti has told that they know that their network is used for live insect transportation this way. Using this method is a really bad idea in the long run and will lead to big problems sooner or later. In some cases sending unannounced might be the only option to be able to send at all, but the following points should make you consider the option of not sending at all seriously:

When sending purposely against the regulations you might be eligible to cover damages. This is the case if the logistics company notices your violation of the rules and must carry out quarantine actions to isolate the risky shipment from other packages.  The second and a lot more serious and expensive case is the breaking of a live insect box during the transportation. Depending on the case it might be that the logistics company has to decontaminate multiple shelves, or even complete airport hangar, dispose other packages that are affected by the escaped insects and so on. And if this happens you can be sure that they are not willing to pay the bill themselves.

There is no legal or regulatory cover. This goes to both receiver and sender! When something goes wrong with a shipment, and eventually something will go wrong, the logistics company will not cover anything to you once it is clear what was inside the package. If you are using the method of unannounced shipments, is it clear what will you do with you if a shipment doesn’t arrive because of the third party?

So what to do? If you are a supplier you should cover yourself by selling your live insect with the Incoterm Ex Works. This means that you are selling them “free from the warehouse” so that products are available from a given location where the customer or a third party assigned by the customer can pick them up. At the moment of picking up the responsibility of the supplier ends and all possible issues are now in the hands of the customer.

The best options is obviously using a logistics service provider that officially transports live insects. There are now a few options available also in EU. If you are interested to get connected I am happy to help you out!

e-mail me ilkka (at) iffautomation.com or call +358 40 762 9601