Plant-based meat has taken off as a lucrative market for companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Now there’s buzz about another protein source, perhaps more quease-inducing than peas and soy: bugs.

Insect-based protein may become an $8 billion market by 2030, expanding from less than $1 billion today, according to a recent Barclays report, cited by Meticulous Research. Growth is predicated on claims of high nutritional value and consumers gradually growing more comfortable with the mealworm and grasshopper shakes.  

The research claims that among emerging alternative proteins, insects accounted for the largest share in the market in 2018. The so-called emerging alternative proteins encompasses fungus, a pond plant called duckweed, and, yes, crickets.

Barclay’s report sees Gen Z, being the “most health-aware and environmentally conscious” generation, as the most likely to switch and replace traditional meat with insects.

Roughly 2 billion people in 113 countries regularly include insects in their diets, according to a 2018 Oxford Academic report. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization is encouraging replacing traditional meat with insects, citing sustainability concerns.  

Not so fast, says Annie Osborn, International Project Coordinator with the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit organization that sees plant-based proteins as the more likely-to-succeed alternative. It’s mostly about taste, she said, while highlighting the fact that raising small insects is a big operation with problems of its own.

Bugs are cheap to raise only if they are fed waste, which is the case for those raised as animal feed.

“Insects raised to be food need to be fed more specialized, expensive, and controlled diets. Processing waste to make it nutritionally consistent enough for insects intended for human consumption is expensive and would raise the price of the final product,” she wrote in an email to Karma.

Grocery chains like Loblaw in Canada and Amazon-owned Whole Foods stock insect-based items, and restaurants like Grub Kitchen in the UK and Black Ant in New York serve insect-based meals. 

“Once considered a weird and wacky food, part of sushi’s transformation into the mainstream was helped by it trickling down from top-end restaurants through to the supermarket shelves,” the Meticulous report states. “We are starting to see this with insects as well.”

Startups and smaller brands have also been emerging building a growing market in the U.S. For example, Florida-based All Things Bugs, considered one of the pioneers in the U.S. market, has been producing insect-based food and drinks since 2010.

Crickets have been the leading insect-based protein and food items with cricket protein powders are expected to register a 15.2% increase and reach $21 million in revenue in the next five years, according to a FIOR Markets research

Bitty Foods, founded in 2013, producing cricket-based flour, and Texas-based Aketta, maker of cricket-based protein, are among companies entering the market. 

But while insect-based proteins can become a sustainable, environmentally-friendly option for the near future, “for the larger population, it really matters how much does the new meat replacement cost and how does it taste,” Bruce Friedrich, Good Food Institute’s founder, said this week in response to a Karma question at the Investing in Alternative Proteins: The End of Meat webinar. “These are things that dictate choice in the food market for pretty much everybody.”

Beyond Meat succeeded because it was able to make its product taste better or the same as real meat, Freidrich said.

“What people like about meat is not that it came from a live animal, but the texture and the taste,” he said. 

Bug burger makers, take note — it’s all about the taste.