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Designing Edible Insect Products: a research project to transform the perception of insect-based food

Designing Edible Insect Products: a research project to transform the perception of insect-based food

Designing Edible Insect Products (DEIP) is a collaborative research project between the Food Design Lab of L’École de design Nantes Atlantique, the LEMNA marketing research lab of the University of Nantes, the GRANEM marketing research lab of the University of Angers and TU Delft in the Netherlands, funded by the regional program RFI West Creative Industries.

A discussion about this promising research project with Dr Dolly Daou, director of the Food Design Lab.

"Crick’n’crok" insect flour grissini designed by Mathilde Cérès and Emma Melki, one of the food innovation concepts tested during the DEIP research project

What is the purpose of Designing Edible Insect Products project ?

The purpose of the project aligns with the philosophy of the lab on: how to feed the planet now and in 2050? In order to examine and analyse the acceptability of eating insects in France. Why do humans need to eat insects? There are many reasons, one of them is the ecological purpose of course, linked to the protein transition, and minimizing food waste. Although, eating insects has a positive ecological impact but it is important to remember that the purpose here is not only for insects to replace other sources of protein such as red meat but also to create another source of food that could relief the planet resources. The project has a lot of potential to develop into further industry and research project.

Since edible insect is part of the protein transition global and local debate, the purpose was not to design an edible insect product but to test the paradox of the sensory experience between the insect-branded packaging and the ‘appetizing’ insect- based food product inside it. The recipes’ main ingredient was insect flour, hence we have tested and measured the French consumers acceptability of this insect product and the role that the package plays in their decision making. While the product looked appetizing, the package indicated the presence of insects in the product, and at the same time raised an ecological awareness of eating insects. It was insightful to see how do consumers make their decision to eat or not to eat. This offered significant insights on the exploration of new eating habits and how to sustain the planet resources while maintaining cultural standard of eating and living well, and during the COVID19 pandemic that was more relevant than ever.

"Olé" insect protein based granola by Pauline Bachellerie and Philippine Roy

How is the Food Design Lab involved in the project ?

The main ethos of the lab is how to feed the planet now and in 2050 with quality, exploring 3 main directions: the protein transition, minimizing food waste and food security; the consumption of insects in France falls into all these categories. Food Design Lab at L’École de design, Nantes Atlantique focuses on ecological and design management and entrepreneurial pedagogy and research. The project offered the researchers of the marketing research labs GRANEM and LEMNA the opportunity to collaborate on a student-driven workshop to examine the role of design and marketing in testing the consumption of a product that is considered distasteful to consume by humans in France.

The Food Design Lab followed an unorthodox design and marketing approach and methodology to produce an innovative approach to test and listen to consumer demands. In a 1 week intensive design and marketing workshop a team of inter-disciplinary design students researched, designed and tested their ideas using practice-based design methods with the purpose to test the acceptability of insect consumption in France. The project was planned and driven by a multidisciplinary international and local team of researchers and practitioners Dolly Daou and Lucie Bolzac in Design, two teacher-researchers in Marketing, Céline Gallen and Gaëlle Pantin-Sohier (consumer behaviour), an international contribution from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands in Product Innovation Management (Faculty of Design Ingeneering) by Ruth Migge and a post-doc from Brazil (Denize Oliveira, PhD in Food Science) with a user-centred focus.

Based on these rich expertise we have designed a packaging testing system and a workshop to combine design and marketing research together.

How does this project relate to the topics and the core expertise of the lab ?

As a Food Design Lab we always deal with these types of projects. We are always examining what are the new eating habits and how do we maintain the equilibrium between living and eating well while keeping the ecological impact in mind. In addition, the ecosystem of L’École de design Nantes Atlantique is based on close collaboration with the industry in order for our students to work with issues that are industry-relevant. Our teams consist of researchers in marketing, anthropology, design and branding.

At the end of the 2-year MDes in Food Design our students must complete a final year project that has both a theoretical and a design practice underpinning. Every project must be original and must align with the vision of the lab. For example, in 2020 students designed a snack from duckweed, a beauty product from apple waste, or a paper package from lettuce… Hence, students are familiar with these types of projects since food experimentation and multi-disciplinary pedagogy and research is core to the Food Design Lab.

Based on the practice-based design research method, which I have worked with for 20 years and it has been part of my design education, research and practice. We treat food ingredients as material, hence we experiment a lot with new products and our students have to be close to the market, to experts and to understand the effect of the sensory experience on consumers in order to create this balance between design, business and ecological impact.

"Insect fudge" by Julie Bureau, Quentin Cadero and Anna Rigaud

What other projects are you working on in the lab ?

As we have a huge international and a local network there are always projects coming our way. We work on industry-based projects from 2 days to 2 years. At the moment we are working on a project (still confidential) on how to minimize food waste using a circular economy ecosystem in the region. Now is the time to open the discussion to talk about how we can turn ideas into reality and COVID19 has offered this opportunity to all of us now.