Sports and active nutrition, which has seen some of the most dynamic shifts in consumer uptake of the past few years, is a sector in which insect production is anticipated to have a great impact. Once a niche for the elite, the sector has evolved into daily lifestyle nutrition for many, gym enthusiast or not.
The sports nutrition market has accelerated the development of powder nutrition and has embraced the plant-based protein sector. Whilst insect products are not vegan nor vegetarian, insect-based products resonate with the growing number of meat reducers, flexitarians, experimental eaters, and environmentally conscious consumers. The global edible insects’ market has already attracted high interest in the Western world as it fits the alternative protein and eco-trends, particularly within the protein powders and snacking sectors. The growth of the protein powder sector has made a great impact in a relatively short period of time. The market is projected to reach $36.05bn by 2028, expanding by a CARG of 8.4% from 2021 (Grandview Research, 2021), and the global sports nutrition market size is expected to grow at a CARG of 8.9% from 2020 to 2026 (Grandview Research, 2021).
In particular, the desire to consume more dietary protein by the general population born out of aspirational associations is believed to be one of the major factors driving the market growth, increasing the demand for protein bars, dietary supplements, and protein drinks among athletes, gym-goers and health-minded consumers. This is mirrored by the increased interest in health priorities being a major driving trend over the past decade. This trend has been further boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst research is still yet to determine why some people experience more severe outcomes from Covid-19, the links to obesity and underlying health issues have been well-documented, leading consumer interest and the development of health-protective habits.
The bioavailability of the protein and amino acids contained within the insect species will be a key factor of this receptive, yet information-driven demographic. To support the uptake of insect protein products, the amino acid profile of insect protein emerging research is being published such as research compiled by Vangsoe et al., 2018. They assessed the amino acid uptake in healthy participants with post-workout ingestion of insect protein. Amino acid levels matched that of soy protein, which is one of the few complete plant-based proteins (containing all the essential amino acids at levels required for human physiological health). It highlighted that the insect protein has a slower rate of amino acid delivery compared to soy and milk protein.
A slower uptake of protein is favoured by two sporting demographics; 1) those looking for time-phased delivery to protect muscle tissue loss when seeking hypertrophy and, 2) to protect lean tissue loss when actively engaging in body fat reduction. Yet this lends insect protein to be a perfectly viable dietary addition for weight management and body composition purposes, fitting well within sports, lifestyle, and general nutrition. The weight management sector within sports and lifestyle nutrition is reported to have seen be the biggest market growth for protein powders and protein-enriched foods/beverages that has a cross-demographic appeal (TFP, 2020).
The properties above also fit the potential for developing new ranges of nutritional powders, snacks, and beverages that focus on delaying muscle loss due to ageing, illness, or post-surgical populations, who are at a high risk of developing sarcopenia (Adi Jonas-Levi, 2017). As populations across the world are ageing, the focus on healthy ageing is a fundamental area of increased nutritional need and thus opening an area of commercial product growth. The prize is enhanced health span, to match that of the increased life span.
A sector of growth that has strong associations with eco-enhanced, sustainable, and quality nutritional profiles is the complete nutrition and meal replacement arena. It was originally created to provide fast uptake of essential nutrition in those that were malnourished but is now a reinvented market creating great appeal due to its convenience, health associations, and created its own subculture of loyal followers.
Insect powder, isolates, and protein fractions can provide new ingredients into the sport and lifestyle market space but are not limited to protein, as insect sources contain high mineral components and levels of bioactive compounds that could contribute to human health regardless of age or embedded sub-culture, due to the high micronutrient value.
Opportunities for the sporting, lifestyle and mainstream sectors reaching all demographics include the proteins, minerals, fibre, bioactive compounds, and vitamins, with applications spanning powders, nutraceuticals (capsules, gels, tablets), food ingredients, bioactive, compounds, extracts, beverages, snacks, and nutrient shots… the applications are broad.
If consumer acceptance can be overcome, the scope for edible insects as a protein alternative and functional ingredient has broad cross-demographic appeal and applications.
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An article written by Natalie Rouse, Markets and Technologies Researcher at BIC Innovation