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Edible insects are crawling to a plate near you, but don't cringe

Getting 'bite-in' 
Market acceptance is not impossible if insect-based food can be packaged to look good and be eaten "elegantly", said Susie Liu (刘笑乾), marketing manager from China-based design agency Pesign, speaking at the same food forum. "I am a Northerner in China, and at home we eat silkworm pupae. It's very popular among elders for its nutritional value," she shared.
Such snacks buzz in a considerable amount of sales on ecommerce platforms and has maintained sustained growth, she said, to the tune of tens of thousands RMB per month from a relatively small minority of consumers. Given there is little advertising or promotion for such fried silkworm snacks (like the one pictured above), this is very rare, she said. Pesign's own consumer research found dichotomous attitudes to the notion of insect food: either love ("I simply like the taste; it's very crispy") or hate ("There is no way for me to stomach this; even if you let me eat feces I will not eat insects") in an extreme way. It is undeniable that many younger consumers, even in adventurous China, are resistant to critters and larvae, and cannot fathom opening their mouths to touch such "weird" and "strange" food, she said. It is precisely because of this that Liu recommends insect-food manufacturers to "turn the foreign into the common" through creative packaging. Because eating habits are often developed since childhood, any resistance is in fact a psychological barrier against "foreign" concepts of food, she said. To remove that barrier, detailed shapes of insects should not be visible on packaging. However, completely avoiding the shape of insects has a drawback, she stressed, as it diminishes the core advantages of insects containing more protein than beef, more calcium than milk or more iron than spinach. After all, the most important purpose of packaging is to be a bridge of communication between the brand and the buyer, she said. Rather, a very "intuitive" design in a form of a sketch or a cartoon (pictured below) is best, she advised. Liu gave the example of how the mouse, before the emergence of Mickey, was reviled by everyone.
Similarly, if insect-food brands create "a sense of intimacy" by "visually anthropomorphising" their ingredients, she said, that at least reduces the strong discomfort certain consumers feel. It is disconcerting for many to see all the tentacles and six legs of a bug before one munches on it. "Although they are the most representative parts of an insect, we do not need too much emphasis on them." The design goal is not to divide "food" and "insects" into two distinctive areas, she explained. Commonly available food types are in the path of least resistance—a nod to protein bars, biscuits, or potato chips laced with bug powder or flour. The above advice may work up an appetite for the haters. On the other hand, for consumers who "love" insect food, visibility of the entire bug is encouraged. "Whatever I put into my stomach, I want to see it clearly" sums up their preference, she revealed.



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