Japan’s NTT East Eyes Entering Insect-Based Food Business

Courtesy of NTT East Corp.
Boxes used to raise crickets for human consumption at the NTT East Corp’s facility.

NTT East Corp. is planning to work with a venture company to produce crickets for human consumption.

The firm plans to use its expertise in communication technology and sensors to breed crickets more efficiently to meet growing demand. Crickets have been attracting worldwide attention as a possible solution to global food shortages.

NTT East will begin its experiments on breeding crickets more efficiently at a facility in Chofu, Tokyo, as early as this month. It will collaborate with Gryllus, a startup that produces edible crickets based in Naruto, Tokushima Prefecture. Gryllus, founded by a Tokushima University researcher, turns crickets into powder, which is then used to make confectionery and other food products.

Crickets will typically reach adulthood in about a month if kept at approximately 30 C. Temperature control is essential in efficient breeding as growth will be slower if it is cooler.

Gryllus raises about 1,000 crickets per rearing box, which is 50 centimeters square, and 400 boxes are maintained by only two to three employees.

NTT East will be in charge of automating temperature controls and water changes to increase efficiency and production. The company is currently engaged in experiments to farm sockeye salmon in tanks, and plans to apply its “smart aquaculture” technology, which uses sensors to monitor water temperature and quality, to cricket-rearing as well.

NTT East intends to enter the cricket business in earnest, aiming for billions of yen in sales by 2028. It is also considering selling its production system.

To secure enough space to successfully breed crickets, the firm plans to utilize its various offices and other facilities nationwide. It is considering using reception desk areas that were used to accept landline or internet applications. As most forms can be submitted online, many of these spaces are left unused, according to the company. NTT East plans to have 600 breeding areas by 2028.

Courtesy of NTT East Corp.
Left: Powdered edible crickets.
Right: Snacks using edible crickets as ingredient.

Environmentally friendly option

Crickets are high in protein, and unlike cows and pigs, they require less maintenance and are said to have less of an environmental impact.

According to a JMA Research Institute Inc. survey, the global market for insect-based food is expected to grow to ¥100 billion in fiscal 2025, compared to ¥7 billion in fiscal 2019.

Concern over food security has grown even further as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Interest in insect-based food has also grown nationwide.

When Ryohin Keikaku Co., the operator of Muji stores, developed cricket sembei rice crackers with Gryllus in 2020, it generated a huge reaction. Zipair Tokyo Inc., a low-cost carrier that is a subsidiary of Japan Airlines Co., introduced hamburgers and other food items containing cricket powder in its in-flight meals in July. In addition, major processed food producer Nichirei Corp. invested in a startup last summer and aims to develop insect-based foods.