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Target the trendsetters: Young men most likely to eat insects, finds research

Trendsetters? The most likely early adopters of insects as a novel and sustainable protein source in Western societies are young males, who are more open to trying new foods and interested in the environmental impact of their food choice.
Trendsetters? The most likely early adopters of insects as a novel and sustainable protein source in Western societies are young males, who are more open to trying new foods and interested in the environmental impact of their food choice.

Young men are likely to be the ‘trendsetters’ in adopting insects into the Western diet, according to a new European study.

The study suggests that one in five meat consumers are ready to adopt insects as food - with men being 2.17 times more likely than women to do so.  Writing in Food Quality and Preference, the new research also reports that consumers trying to reduce their meat intake are 4.51 times more likely to introduce insects into their diet. 

According to the study, the ‘trendsetters’ in adopting insects as food will be younger males who are interested in the environmental impact of their food choices and open to trying novel foods. 

“With low levels of neophobia (fear of new foods) the likelihood that this type of person is ready to adopt insects as a meat substitute is more than 75%, so they would be the logical target market for insect products and acceptance,” explained study author Wim Verbeke from Ghent University. 

“The study also shows that despite some interest in eating insects, Western consumers are still strongly attached to their meat consumption habits, which underscores the relevance of investigating and encouraging the adoption of protein from sustainable sources such as insects into animal feed,” added Verbeke.

Research details

The study analysed cross-sectional data that was collected from a representative sample of 368 meat consumers in the Flanders region of Belgium during December 2013 using a web-based survey.

Verbeke noted that while this was a localised study, “it is probable that consumer surveys in other Western countries would reveal similar findings, as the study demonstrates the most relevant determinants of consumer acceptance transferable to other regions and populations.”

His research found that men were twice as likely to be interested in adopting insects as a substitute for meat is (men 6.3% vs women 12.8%), while people who claim to be familiar with the idea of eating insects have a 2.6 times higher likelihood, and consumers who intend to reduce fresh meat intake are up to 4.5 times more likely to adopt insects.

The fear of new foods (known as food neophobia) was found to make the largest contribution to consumers’ readiness to adopt insects. Indeed, a one-unit increase in the food neophobia score was associated with a 84% decrease in the predicted odds of being ready to adopt insects.

“A stronger convenience orientation in food choice and a higher interest in the environmental impact of food choice increase the likelihood of adopting insects by 75% and 71% per unit increase in these predictors’ scores, respectively,” wrote Verbeke.

“By contrast, a one-unit stronger belief that meat is nutritious and healthy, and a one-unit higher importance attached to taste for meat lower the predicted odds by 64% and 61%, respectively.”

He concluded that in light of such findings, the most likely early adopters of insects as a novel and more sustainable protein source in Western societies are younger males with a weak attachment to meat, who are more open to trying novel foods and interested in the environmental impact of their food choice.

Source: Food Quality and Preference
Volume 39, Pages 147–155, doi: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2014.07.008
“Profiling consumers who are ready to adopt insects as a meat substitute in a Western society”
Author: Wim Verbeke

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