Source: The Washington Post
Two years ago, Ann Carlson—the founder of Jiminy’s, a dog food startup—done a taste test with her dog Timber.
I filled half his bowl with the meat-based food the Dane used to eat, and I filled the other half with Jiminy’s Cricket Crave, a food made with cricket powder, oats, quinoa, sweet potatoes, and other plant-based ingredients. Then I stood back as he digs.
Timber’s response was miraculous: He sniffed his options, then devoured a Cricket Crave and licked his lips with conviction, leaving the other side as is.
“It was one of those moments when you say, ‘Oh, that’s so good,'” Carlson said. “This summer, Petco has stocked shelves in 800 stores with Jiminy’s dog food. Besides the surprise of seeing insect-damaged pets, Carlson says customers are a lot What they tell her is, “I didn’t even realize I could fight climate change with my dog.”
Many pet owners bark reflexively “No!” When their dog or cat is preparing to feed on an insect. But despite what scientists call the “yuck factor,” insects could be a secret, sustainable ingredient for the burgeoning pet food industry. Nearly a quarter of Americans cut back on meat, and many are concerned about the fact that raising livestock causes up to 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet for all of the mortals who observe meat-free Mondays, opt for impossible burgers or swear on meat altogether, the 180 million furry members of American households are fed beef, lamb, poultry, or pork at nearly every meal.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, estimate that dogs and cats are responsible for up to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States. If American pets had made their own country, they would eat the fifth most meat in the world. And due to increased epidemic pet acquisitions, Americans now spend more than $40 billion annually on pet food and processing — with many stores offering almost exclusively traditional meat-based options.
But there are signs of a shift. Several pet food companies — including the two largest, Mars and Nestle — are developing insect-based alternatives for dogs and cats, and according to a Petco survey, 55 percent of customers like the idea of using alternative, sustainable protein ingredients in their pet food.
Millennials, the fastest-growing group of pet owners, are eager to buy eco-friendly products and are willing to pay a premium for them, according to Francesca Mahoney, Petco’s head of sustainability.
“There is an appetite for pet parents to spend a little bit more if something aligns with their values,” Mahoney said. Petco wants half of its products to be sustainable by 2025.
Currently, some pet owners may dismiss the high price tag of these alternatives. Petco sells a 3.5-pound bag of Jiminy’s Cricket Crave for $21.95 — nearly three times more than Purina’s chicken and dry rice food. But the cost of insects, temporarily spurred by nutrition testing and a supply chain with huge room for expansion, is expected to decline as the market grows.
Carlson founded Jiminy’s in 2016, after reading a United Nations report identifying crickets as a sustainable food source for humans. After all, insects are already a staple of cooking in most parts of the world: fried locusts in Thailand, worms floating in mezcal in Mexico, boiled caterpillars in Congo. The edible insect market is expected to grow eightfold globally by 2030, to $8 billion.
Carlson herself drinks smoothies with a dash of cricket powder. Her company sells Cricket Crave as well as Good Grub, which derives protein from black soldier fly larvae. As a pet food, “there are no compromises,” she said. “It’s human. It’s hypoallergenic. It’s delicious.”
Carlson added that the bugs produce something that many pet owners watch anxiously: “hard droppings.” Crickets and fly larvae are digestible similarly to conventional meat and provide similar protein, as well as vital amino acids and other minerals, according to Kelly Swanson, an animal nutrition scientist at the University of Illinois.
Although many pets eat the same list of wet and dry food every day of their lives, Swanson says that an alternating diet is often the most nutritious. When cutting back on meat, “it’s not all or nothing,” he says, adding that for his diet, “I’ll have one or two servings of meat a week. For pets, 10 percent of the protein coming from insects adds sustainability.”
According to Carlson, an acre of land can yield about 192 pounds of beef per year, or 265 pounds of poultry. The same area produces 65,000 pounds of cricket or 130,000 pounds of black soldier fly larvae. Agriculture insects release far less carbon and methane, and according to Gemini’s “carbon footprint” calculator, converting a Golden Retriever to an insect-based diet saves 4.4 million gallons of water annually.
Many Jiminy crickets come from Entomo Farms in Ontario, Canada. The company, which expects to quadruple sales this year, has modified rural chicken farms to house millions of crickets in climate-controlled “cabins.” One might think a barn infested with crickets might be as deafening as the Toronto Raptors’ clincher, but no: cricket crickets only tweet into old age, and Entomo crickets live 80 percent of their normal life before being treated.
In August, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, an influential body that sets food standards for pets, voted to approve black soldier fly larvae for dog food. (The AAFCO has not yet issued a ruling on the cockroaches.) Jiminy’s acquires dried fly larvae from Kentucky-based EnviroFlight, which opened its first commercial-scale fly farm in the US in 2019. At any given time there are billions of organisms under one roof — about 5 percent of the flies and 95 percent of the larvae live vertically. up to 15 feet.
The flies are raised in a “circular economy,” said Liz Kotsos, president of EnviroFlight, an animal nutritionist. They are fed with by-products from local bourbon distilleries and bakeries, and then the larval waste goes to animal feed. “Nothing ends up in a landfill,” Kotsos said.
Many meat-based pet foods use animal products that humans don’t eat — mostly bones and organs such as the spleen, kidneys and heart — presumably to reduce their footprint. The pet food industry would be better off eliminating its reliance on factory farming, says Caitlin Dudas, executive director of the Pet Sustainability Alliance. “We are not clear about responsibility for the farming practices of our products” from animals, she said, while “insect protein is legitimately sustainable.”
Currently, Europeans have a greater appetite for insect service to their pets. Nestlé Purina’s line of insect-based dry dog food is sold in about 200 stores in Switzerland, and the company expects distribution to double by October. This spring, Mars – after finding that 47 per cent of Europeans would buy an insect-based food – released a cat food made from the larvae of a black soldier, Lovebug, in the UK.
“With protein sources being provided, there is a symbiotic relationship between the human food supply chain and the pet supply chain,” said Derry Watkins, head of European division at Mars Petcare Europe. “I would be surprised if five years from now, you wouldn’t see an insect protein option on a major supermarket shelf.”
Companies are still refining how to market bugs, too. When Jonathan Persofsky conducted a focus group test of his Green Gruff-based cricket dog treats, packages covered in bugs scored very poorly. When he explained the nutritional and environmental aspect of crickets, 88 percent of people said they would buy their product.
Marianne Murphy, a veterinary nutritionist at the University of Tennessee, isn’t surprised that people break up seeing insects. The pet food industry is already working to subsidize human plates, marketing such novelties as Memphis-style BBQ chicken for dogs and seafood paella for cats. “When I talk to [pet] The owners say, “Do I want to eat insects?” Murphy said.
Although humans can easily cut back on mainstream meat choices, many people wonder if this is true for their pets. Cats are called “obligate carnivores,” meaning that they depend on the micronutrients found in meat. But “insect protein fulfills that need,” Watkins said, and at least cats and dogs seem to benefit from insects as a supplement source of protein.
DC-based Chippin also makes treats from powdered cricket, as well as dog foods made with spirulina or gassy carp. “It’s shocking, to see people walking into Whole Foods, putting plant foods in reusable bags, but when you hit the pet food aisle, a lot of it is conventional meat protein,” said CEO Haley Russell.
About a year ago, Brooklyn Tails Pet Food owner Jonathan Carrion began selling cricket candy. He liked that it was rich in protein, and he remembered watching his cat enjoy eating the bugs she found outside.
But after displaying it in front of his store, Carrion decided not to restock. “About 50 percent of customers think roaches are disgusting, like I told them it was made of roaches,” he said.
In the end, there is still a major learning curve to overcome in the United States, even in the most environmentally conscientious neighborhood. He believes that insect-based pet food companies should offer free samples or provide brochures, such as CBD-based pet products, to explain the many benefits of insect feeding to pets.
“People who have sampled will come right back, and ask, ‘Hey, do you have more cricket stuff? “Animals love it,” said Carrion.