Our BarnRaiser crowdfunding campaign ends at midnight on July 15, so we’re coming up quickly on the finish line. While we encourage you to checkout the page and help support Little Herds by pledging to get an awesome reward, or sharing with friends and family, there are big things happening in the world and we wanted to share some of the ways our growing movement fits into the broader picture.
The recent vote in Britain to leave the European Union has surprised the world and left many people wondering what the short and long-term implications will be. We were curious about the growing Ento Industry in the United Kingdom and what this change could mean for these startups. Will there be new opportunities? Will there be new hurdles and barriers?
We knew we had to talk to the good folks at Woven Network, which is the UK’s first and only industry organization supporting insects as food and feed. Luckily we recently had the chance to sit down and chat with Matt over at Woven Network about their Inaugural conference in April. This week we’ll be sharing our interview from early May as our snapshot of “Life as a UK Entopreneur,” and next week we’ll be revisiting Woven to see what’s changed since the vote to leave the EU.
We’ll start with a little more about who they are and what they’re doing, from Matt Anderson of Woven Network:
RNA – Thanks for taking some time to join us today, we know y’all just wrapped up an amazing inaugural conference in the UK and we’re excited to hear more. First though, can you tell us a little more about how Woven Network came about?
MA – Woven was the brainchild of Nick Rousseau, our Managing Director. After learning of the potential insects have as a food of the future, he had discussions with some of the stakeholders in the sector and it became apparent that there was a real need for a national organisation that could give a much larger voice to these individuals, be they businesses, researchers or any others involved in the field, connecting them and bridging the gap between these different areas within the industry.
For me, I first learnt of Nick’s intentions when I heard him give a presentation at a workshop on edible insects at the Institute of Development Studies
back in March last year, so I got in touch and things went from there. We aim to work with our members to prioritize our services on areas like legislation, policy, supply chains, general advice and networking.
That’s great, we’re working on starting a similar type of organization here with the (working title) North American Edible Insect Coalition. Who are some of your current members?
We have a growing number of Full Members (i.e. those that have contributed to our growth as an organisation), with the likes of emerging UK snack bar producers such as Bodhi
, several researchers from UK universities, consultancy firms such as BioBridge
, international organisations such as 4ento
and EAP Group
, and even one of the founders of graze.com
. We also have almost a hundred Associate Members registered with us.
Sounds like a great group of founding members, it’ll be exciting to see your membership grow alongside the industry. What are the current and future priorities of Woven?
One of the biggest issues we now have to contend with here in Europe is the Novel Foods legislation. In a nutshell, this states that any food ingredients not significantly consumed in Europe before 1997 are classified as Novel Foods and therefore require authorization for sale pending a successful application. The application involves providing the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) with sufficient evidence for the ingredient’s safety, and the list of requirements is extensive. We currently have a grace period until January 2018 to come up with the goods, after which insect-based products will no longer be able to be sold until ingredient-specific applications have been passed. So the most immediate focus for Woven in the next two years is to work with researchers and businesses to ensure all the relevant evidence is collated before the deadline.
Another area to work on ties in with some of the work you do with Little Herds
on developing global quality and safety standards. We are in discussion with the British Standards Institute (BSI) to define what these industry-specific standards may look like and we hope to hold a workshop on this in the coming months. We will also be working with organisations like Little Herds to define what these might look like on a global scale across the insects for food and feed sector.
It’s a very interesting problem trying to align the best practices and standards there with those in the US or other countries. Can you tell us a little more about the regulatory landscape in the UK for insects as food right now?
It currently all ties in with this Novel Foods legislation. Insect-based products are currently sold freely in the UK and in much of Europe, but as mentioned, January 2018 is the point at which this could all change if we are not sufficiently prepared. There is a danger that, in this interim period where products are sold and there are no well-defined standards to adhere to (other than the mandatory food safety regulations we have here in the UK), a company might come along and cut corners, putting consumers at risk and potentially damaging the whole industry before it has really come into its own. So now really is the time, not just in the UK and Europe, but across the board, to think about standards and how our insect-based products should be handled all the way from farm to plate.
Leading up to this conference, what was the biggest hurdle to making sure everything went off smoothly?
We had some teething issues, as you can imagine, but everything worked out surprisingly well in the end. We partnered with and were sponsored by the Royal Entomological Society
for this conference
and were a little challenged by the necessity to synchronize ticket sales, but this ultimately worked out fine. The only real issue we faced was that we had to turn many people away (which is actually both good and bad), but we now have a much better idea of the level of interest in this growing industry.
Tell us about the conference! Any favorite moments or memorable events?
It was fascinating to finally witness the interaction between the business and research elements of the sector, which is what Woven
is really all about. We began with some very interesting talks from industry on a range of topics from farming risk management to developing efficient supply chains. This was followed by some fantastic talks from researchers working on consumer acceptance and the neuroscience behind disgust. One of these talks included results from huge consumer surveys on acceptance, conducted by the PROteINSECT
project, who will be holding their own (now sold out) conference
on April 27th where they will present their full results, some of them quite surprisingly good news for the industry! We finished the speaker sessions with a business showcase, featuring brief presentations from insect-based producers and distributors.
The most interesting part for me was the panel discussion with which we wrapped up the conference. We had two panelists from industry and two from research, but discussions were open to everyone present and most people had valuable input to share. There were some clear tensions when we covered the potential conflict between businesses who have a need for fast progression and researchers who have to be very thorough in their work, but the overall feeling was one of cooperation, understanding, and moving the industry forward.
We will soon release a full run-down of the conference
on our blog
, so watch this space!
What take-aways do you think the conference attendees had?
I think the discussion we had on the interplay between business and research enabled individuals on both “sides” to take a moment to actually think about the motivations and requirements of the other, something which I would wager none of us would actually normally do from within our respective bubbles, be that from within academia or the start-up environment. This was the first time people from these often contrasting roles came together to discuss interests in the same field, and this really was the purpose of our first conference: to get people thinking, considering how their roles fit into the bigger picture, and how we might all go forward as a sector.
What are you planning to do differently for the next conference?
The first and most obvious thing is that it will be bigger! As nice as it was to have a sold out conference, we obviously don’t want to have to be turning so many people away next time. We collected feedback from attendees and there are several other little things we can improve on for next time (some more crucial than others), but overall the feedback was positive and appreciative.
Have any favorite insect dishes or recipes you’d like to share?
I’m glad you asked, since one of our members (and a panellist at the conference
) was Shami from Eat Grub
and they have just released “The Ultimate Insect Cookbook
“. I’ve got myself a copy so I’ll finish with a few excerpts from some of my favourites:
Snacks: “Sticky Crickets”
“Sticky Crickets have been a real favourite at our pop-up Grub events. It’s a dish that seems to remind people of crispy Peking duck and pancakes: the sauce is rich and aromatic (much like hoi sin sauce) and the crickets have the same sweet and salty crunch of crispy duck. Just add slices of refreshing cucumber: it’s a winning combination.”
Main: “Mealworm & Beef Stew”
“This stew shows off how well mealworms can absorb flavour. As they slow cook, they retain their texture while completely absorbing the flavours of the stew. They’re a nutritious and delicious addition to an English classic.”
Dessert: “Grilled Bananas with Ants, Sesame, Tamarind and Palm Sugar Caramel”
“This is a quick and simple recipe that uses the natural citrussy flavour of ants to great effect. Alongside the tamarind, they strike a balance with the sweet stickiness of the caramel and banana, while the salt brings it all together. For best results grill the banana over a barbecue (although a grill pan will do).”
Cocktail: “Buffalo Worm Bloody Mary”
“Bloody Marys are one of my favourite cocktails to make as they can host all manner of ingredients while retaining their unique flavour. This is an adaptation of my own recipe with the addition of buffalo worms – Bloody Marys should be earthy and complex, so the worms are a perfect addition.”