Noted bug lovers like Questlove, René Redzepi, and all the old Fear Factor contestants may need to pencil in a quick Swiss supermarket stop this May. That’s when one of Europe’s largest food wholesalers based there starts selling “burgers” and “meatballs” made from mealworms. It’s a partnership between Coop, which operates more than 2,000 stores in the country, and Essento, a startup that’s trying to popularize eating insects.
Down the line, Coop hopes to stock more than just the larval spin on ground chuck; together, it and Essento envision an entire range of “surprising” insect-protein products. Essento co-founder Christian Bärtsch tells Business Insider that, right now, the aim is chiefly to make products that “taste and look as close to beef as possible,” that trick every meat-alternative startup has found useful for easing in apprehensive consumers.
Advocates tout eating bugs as a cost-effective, eco-friendly, and nutrient-rich substitute to meat-heavy diets, and it’s starting to lose its yuck factor. Cricket flour and protein bars are increasingly available in U.S. grocery stores, for example. And it’s worth remembering that plant-based alternatives are already there. (Whole Foods recently added Beyond Meat’s veggie burgers to their own special case beside the regular meat, and they sold out in an hour.) But putting a full-blown bug-protein section on the meat aisle probably wouldn’t get the warmest welcome just yet Stateside. In fact, Switzerland — a country on a continent that enjoys a much deeper culinary tie to bugs — just recently changed its laws so that grocers don’t have to get a special permit to sell insects, so long as the products follow standard food-safety regulations. Coop says it plans to stock the mealworm packs smack-dab in the middle of the refrigerated meat section.