Despite the media's preoccupation with insect food and massive campaigns touting crickets and larvae as a sustainable and climate-responsible alternative to meat, the excitement has waned in a matter of several years, the Finnish broadcaster Yle reported, concluding that Finns are “not yet ready to eat crickets”.
Finland's cricket breeding business took off in September 2017, when the country's Ministry of Agriculture allowed breeding and selling insects as food, a decision made possible by a revision of the EU's food standards.
After that the number of insect breeding facilities spiked, as revenues in the billions of euros were predicted. In 2018, Europe's largest cricket farm emerged in Loviisa, which began to produce hundreds of tonnes of insect powder.
However, in the following years, the buzz subsided, and insect breeders suffered major setbacks amid dwindling demand and stiff competition.
According Lauri Jyllilä of the Finsect company, which promotes insect food, there were over 70 companies in the insect food business at the peak of the enthusiasm. Now, there are about 50 left, with no new companies being founded.
The price of frozen crickets reached as much as 100 euros per kilogram, Jyllilä explained, which was way too expensive even for sympathetic and ecologically-minded consumers.
“The cost of freshly frozen crickets should be 10-15 euros per kilogram”, Jyllilä ventured.
Kurikka resident Panu Ollikkala, one of Finland's first cricket breeding specialists, dropped out of the competition in the autumn of 2019.
“Demand was inadequate. The price has fallen so much that my business didn't pay off”, a despondent Olikkala mused.
The Kouvola farm, touted as Europe's largest, followed suit. Entrepreneur Vesa-Matti Rajamäki admitted that he no longer believed in the success of cricket production. Numerous unsuccessful insect breeders complained that the massive support of the traditional meat industry makes competition virtually impossible.
“A lot of beautiful words were said about the insect business. Many farms were opened, and bank loans were taken” cricket farm owners Kirsi and Jouko Siikoine said. They intend to close down their business in March 2020. “The onterest in eating insects and the insect processing sector has plummeted”, the couple explained.
In the city of Kurikka, which is now considered the centre of insect production, crickets are still being bred, but a downward trend is visible.
“This is a sort of cricket breeding bank, thanks to which you can quickly restore your production if you want”, Jyllilä explained.
Crickets are often grounded into powder and added to bread, protein bars and chocolate. However, after large-scale promotion, many products gradually left the market.
The main selling point of the bug diet is the reduced environmental footprint. According to Finnish insect producers, a single kilogram of crickets only requires a single litre of water, as opposed to 2,500 litres for a kilogram of rice and a whopping 15,400 litres for a kilogram of beef. Insect food is also claimed to be rich in protein.
Many are still averse to eating insects for reasons of ideology and aesthetics. This opposition has resulted in a common web mantra: “I will not eat bugs and I will not live a pod”.