Saturday, July 09, 2016

Tracking Retail Cricket Flour Prices

Person pointing at a chart (from the Internet Archive)
I have been following the field of entomophagy (insects as food) for a little while: watching the news, occasionally writing news roundups or more detailed pieces (see notes section).  So I have been wondering, as news coverage has increased, new products are launched, and companies start scaling up their insect-rearing operations, what is happening to retail prices?  

In early 2015, I started recording the retail price of 100% pure cricket flour at a handful of on-line stores (shipping costs were not considered).  The results of these surveys are shown in the chart below. 

Suppliers' prices vary significantly, with a spread of about 20-30% from the average. The retail price has been relatively stable over the period of study — the average retail price of pure cricket flour is about $40 per pound. These are not terribly surprising results.  This is a newly developing market, and it takes time to scale up and optimize — the teams building insect farming infrastructure need time to acquire land and farming space, develop more efficient farming techniques, increase processing capacity, and build distribution networks.  (And, of course, they'll need many more customers.)

My price survey has some deficiencies. The first is that it considers retail prices, while the major action in cricket flour is probably at the wholesale level (e.g., sales to manufacturers like Bitty Foods and Exo) and so it would be better to be tracking wholesale prices. These aren't as readily available, however.  The second is about shipping: some companies offer free shipping for orders above certain amounts, others charge for shipping on all orders. For example, in the June 2016 survey, the low-price option charges $11 for shipping, the high-price option includes shipping, one company sets its free shipping limit below the price of a pound of cricket flour, another sets it above the price of a pound.

Livestock prices from USDA Economic Research Service
If the industry grows significantly, real food data experts might step in.  One group of food data experts is the staff of the USDA's Economic Research Service, which has built an amazing collection of data and reports about agricultural products and markets — data products like the aquaculture dataset "Statistics on domestically grown catfish and trout and U.S. imports and exports of fish and shellfish that may be products of aquaculture, such as salmon, shrimp, and oysters"; or monthly reports like "Monthly average price values at the farm, wholesale, and retail stages for selected cuts of beef, pork, and broilers;" or charts like the one on the right. I didn't find anything about insects as food at the Economic Research Service, but perhaps in the future the Service will be tracking the industry, publishing a monthly "Insect Outlook," and compiling data about "Monthly average price values at the farm, wholesale, and retail stages for selected species of edible insects." 

My previously posted pieces about insects as food:
If you want to closely follow what is happening in the entomophagy movement, three great places to start are the Twitter feeds of @AnaCDay, @littleherds, and @4EntoFOOD (to name a few of the good ones that are out there).  Ana C. Day also runs an entomophagy news collection service on the service.

Image Credits
Person pointing at a chart is from page 752 of "Illinois Agricultural Association record [microform]" (January 1944- December 1949) from Internet Archive's Flickr collection, no known copyright restrictions.  Agricultural price chart is from the USDA Economic Research Service, not subject to copyright (U.S. Government product).

Random link from the archive: Annatto Seeds – An Ancient Dye and Flavoring with a Global Reach (insects are another source of dye, notably cochineal, which caused some trouble for Starbucks a few years ago)

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