[Feature] From bugs to delicacies, insect proteins find niche in pet food market

Larvae of flies (Rural Development Department)

Larvae of flies (Rural Development Department)

Edible insects such as larvae of flies, cockroaches and mealworms are a healthier and more sustainable source of protein for humanity.

But not many people seem to find it appetizing enough, at least not yet, to include it in their regular diet.

For dogs and cats, it’s a different story.

“Our products are loved by pets because they taste nutty and also like cheese biscuits,” Kim Tae-hoon, CEO of Foody Worm, which sells insect-based pet foods, told The Korea Herald.

The local market is now taking off, the entrepreneur said, as more people choose to feed their pets food made from insects that is not only rich in protein but has many health benefits.

When Kim started the business in 2016, consumers didn’t easily accept the idea of ​​feeding pet bugs. But now, Foody Worm products are “the third to fourth best-selling pet food in stores,” he added.

Another pet food entrepreneur the Korea Herald spoke to can attest in person to the market’s journey.

“It has been a year since we launched our product. Within just 3 months of launch, we exceeded our sales target by 300 percent,” said Park Jong-hoon, CEO of Wellsome, which produces pet food primarily using fly larvae.

Kim, Park, and market researchers said the emergence of insects as pet food is linked to the growing trend of humanization of pets here.

As more and more pet owners treat their dogs and cats like family members and try to provide the best for their loved ones, they are looking for quality pet food. In 2020, about 67 percent of pet food sold in Korea were “premium” products, according to the Korea Pet Food Association.

Insect-based foods are top notch for their health benefits, according to Kim Ki-hyun, who is responsible for animal welfare research at the state-run National Institute of Animal Science.

Oil extracted from fly larvae used to make pet food (National Institute of Animal Sciences)

Oil extracted from fly larvae used to make pet food (National Institute of Animal Sciences)

The expert explained that studies have shown that insect-based foods can eliminate food allergies in dogs and cats, reduce cholesterol, and boost immunity, among other things.

Kim’s team found mealworms to be effective in improving skin conditions such as dryness and itching.

“We also discovered that proteins based on fly larvae can reduce blood cholesterol concentrations by 10 percent when eaten for 12 weeks,” he added.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the domestic pet food industry is expected to grow to 70.7 billion won ($59.71 million) by 2030, from 17 billion won in 2018.

Insect proteins are components of not only pet food, but animal feed in general, a globally profitable industry, driven in large part by climate action. A report from Barclays predicts that the market for edible insects will grow to $6.3 billion by 2030.

RaboResearch, a Dutch research center, says the demand for insect protein could reach half a million metric tons by 2030, up from today’s market of about 10,000 metric tons.

The South Korean government is supporting local companies to seize a portion of the growing market. The Ministry of Agriculture has allocated 360 million won to support the insect farming business here. The government’s National Animal Science Institute also helps entrepreneurs and pet food companies by sharing their research findings and technology for using insect-based protein.

This would also help the country reduce its pet food dependence on imports.

South Korea currently gets about 70 percent of pet food from imports, according to researcher Kim.

The expert noted that the demand for functional pet foods will continue to grow along with the increasing number of obese populations and elderly pets, prompting continued research on other edible insects.

Written by Hong Yoo (yoohong@heraldcorp.com)

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