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Vending machine selling 'nutritious' insect snacks creates buzz in west Japan

An employee is seen promoting insect snacks sold in a vending machine in the city of Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, on April 27, 2022. (Mainichi/Yasutoshi Tsurumi)

MATSUYAMA -- A vending machine that lets people try "nutritious" insect snacks was unveiled along a national road in this west Japan city on April 27.

    The vending machine, which promotes the snacks as "highly nutritious meals of the future," is the first of its kind in western Japan's Shikoku region, according to the firm that introduced it. A representative commented, "I'd like people to pick them up as a snack for their journey or sightseeing trips."

    Nine types of insect snacks, including fried crickets, mole crickets, bamboo worms, diving beetles, locusts and silkworm pupae, are sold for 1,000 yen (about $8) each. The project was started by Sanpuku Holdings, based in the city of Matsuyama, which handles real estate and other businesses, with a subsidiary that operates vending machines, as an initiative to contribute to the realization of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The vending machine uses insects processed by Hamaru Foods, a manufacturer of insect meals in the city of Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture.

    The vending machine is set up along National Route 11 in the parking lot of a fitness club near a public middle school. A sign reading "insect meals" in large letters attracts the attention of passersby. Transparent jars containing silver bags can be viewed through the window, but the actual contents cannot be seen unless they are bought.

    The new project has the added benefit of allowing old drink vending machines owned by the firm's subsidies to be reused. The annual electricity used to store insect snacks in vending machines is half the amount required to refrigerate or warm drinks. The company has set a target of selling 300 products in one month, and will consider setting up more vending machines if sales go well.

    Tomoko Kira, 43, an employee of Sanpuku Holdings who tried the fried crickets, described them as "crunchy like a snack, with a taste like the head of a shrimp." She said they were not bitter, and were salty and had a pleasant smell.

    Eating insects, which are rich in protein despite feeding on less food compared to chickens, pigs and cows, is said to be environmentally friendly, and a potential solution to a food shortage crisis stemming from global population growth. The company is calling on people to try them as healthy next-generation snacks, while cautioning that those with shellfish allergies may not be able to eat them.

    (Japanese original by Yasutoshi Tsurumi, Matsuyama Bureau)

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