Interview with Marco Ceriani, founder and CEO of Italbugs and author of the book “Si fa presto a dire insetto“.
How and when did you first come in contact with the idea of insects as food and alternative source of proteins?
In Thailand in 2008. I was in Bangkok as head of nutrition of the Italian National Muay Thai Team. In the training camps I used to see thai athletes eating strange integrators. I soon discovered that they were eating insects! For them it is a fortifying proteic food, as it was for Egyptians, Greeks and the soldiers of the Roman Empire.
What can you tell us about products derived from insects you’re working on for Italbugs’ commercial development?
Italbugs is a start-up based in PTP Research Science Park in Lodi, aimed at developing several innovative food products (by the way, the first product to be released by our laboratory “Willy Wonka” will be presented in Lodi in December 12, a Christmas surprise!).
What are obstacles you are facing in the company’s development, apart from the legal ones?
At first (some years ago), the project encountered a lot of resistance and doubts, but things have gone better since we received the support of the most important Agrobusiness Science Park in Italy. After the latest EU Parlament’s decision on Novel Food we have been receiving a lot of media attention. Maybe also because we represent the first industrial project based on scientific research and composed of a really impressive team including entomologists, biologists, nutritionists, media and web managers, chefs and food designers.
In terms of business, what will be the most interesting applications for edible insects products?
I think nutraceuticals and feed products, but only if derived from scientific food safety research.
You also founded an Association, Italbugs Farmer Association: what’s its goal?
The Association’s function is to communicate with a wider audience that supports the FAO issues (which were also supported by Slow Food, Expo and even by the Pope) for sustainable, safe and nutritious food.
Not only insects but also seaweed, mushrooms, fish and everything else that is small, less polluting and better converts feed in nutrients.
Do you think an Italian Association including all the operators in this industry should be founded? Perhaps as part of other structured National Associations with stable institutional relationship.
I do not know. In our country everyone is normally against everyone else.
In this field, as in many others, there are those who study and work and those who copy. What I most fear is that few non-professional operators could damage the whole market.
An Association could certainly have better relations with the Governement and the Institutions, but on this aspect the project White Paper on edible insects (presented at Expo by Società Umanitaria) is well done, and we could give our contribution in terms of ideas.
What do you think about an “Italian Insect” Quality Mark?
A Quality Mark today can no longer be just a logo or a symbol. For years we have been working on controlled DNA as scientific validation method for insects food matrix.
What will this sector be like in fifteen years?
In fifteen years? I hope I will still be there!
All jokes apart: it will be a developed industry producing “normal” food like any other.
In Italy informal food was identified once with Trattoria and Pizzeria, today with dragon clouds, kebab and sushi … but insects, seaweed and jellyfish are arriving as well.
Someone can certainly think “Thank God I’ll be gone by that time”, but what is important to know today is that traditional food does not exist any more: fishes eat soy as tractors do, chickens eat fishfeed.
What would you suggest to an entrepreneur who wants to invest in edible insects business?
The advice is: just call me!
Seriously: this is a scientifical and cultural business you can’t join without valid ideas and research. “Sheds and fields” are not all you need!