Finally, eating insects is trendy again. Or was it ever? 

There was a short-lived movement some years back when a raft of upstarts entered the market, each hailing insects as the next big protein. But the buzz died down quickly when Brits didn’t embrace the cuisine, leaving a few straggler brands behind.

It could finally become a big and lasting movement, but for now, only as long as you’re on mainland Europe. There, you can have cricket flour pizza in Italy, buy mealworm biscuits in Germany and, why not, enjoy a beetle burger in France.

The same argument from years ago remains: insect-based food presents a great opportunity for the food market, both for adaptability and sustainability. It should therefore be bugging us all that the UK market remains stifled by regulation.

Common edible species like mealworms, beetles and crickets provide a high amount of protein while being more environmentally friendly than meat.

Producing one kilo of cricket flour requires five litres of water compared to 15,000 litres needed to produce a kilo of meat – and that same kilo yields up to 200g of protein versus 270g for the same amount of meat.

While Europe is leading the entomophagy revolution, the UK is being dragged behind by post-Brexit bureaucracy.

Before December 2023, all edible insects were recognised as novel foods under EU regulations – which meant British companies like Bugvita, Crunchy Critters and Horizon Insects could enjoy significant freedom on the type and variety of produce they put on supermarket shelves.

From January 2024, the offer was dropped from seven species available down to four, forcing companies to take products off shelves and refile years worth of FSA authorisations before going as far as trialling a new product again.

Imagine living in a world where the only crisp option is ready salted, when prawn cocktail, cheese & onion and salt & vinegar provide both better variety and (slightly) more nutritious ingredients.

And that’s not even taking into account the cost of it all. The Guardian estimated achieving legal authorisation to operate post-Brexit would cost between £70,000 and £85,000, which would put a significant financial dent into – if not put out of business altogether – most edible insect companies, the majority of which are SMEs.

The end of transitional measures coincides with stifling an industry teeming with ideas, and rife with opportunity. 

UK edible insect companies

On the other hand, the variety and relative freedom available pre-Brexit opened up the playing field for companies to create both soft (think products that use animal gelatine) and hard foods (think pasta, granola, and snacks), which gave insect-based products time to move into consumers’ hearts through foods already known to them.

Without that vital variety, and with the entire process slowed down in bureaucracy, edible insect companies are stripped to the basics of their offer, and the onus to learn about insects as food is left to the consumer. And for a large percentage of British consumers, understandably, eating a bag of baked crickets is a big ask.

Starting from a place that takes its food seriously, Italian cricket breeders at Nutrinsect are proving you can be a country of picky eaters (and one that doesn’t favour novelty foods, as the lab-grown meat veto has shown) and still understand that insect-based food is a bright way forward.

Where Brexit could have been the perfect opportunity to disentangle the industry from the classification of edible insects as novel food, the entire industry is now in limbo.

If regulations don’t take a decisive turn, it will be a long time before British consumers will be able to indulge and catch the bug for this highly nutritious, environmentally-friendly, food of the future. But that’s to say it will ever become a viable and attractive option for UK consumers…