8 Startups Selling Edible Insects and Bugs
There is a Western aversion to insects in general. They are thought of as pests who transmit diseases, and we look at them with same kind of disgust we would reserve for public relations people who want us to do free work for their paid clients. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is happily munching away on the appetizing critters, with more than 1,000 species known to be eaten in 80% of the world’s nations. Entomophagy is the scientific term for eating insects, and it’s a practice that is nutritious, sustainable, and tasty. Humans have been doing it for thousands of years, especially in tropical climates where insects grow bigger, there are more of them, and “harvests” are predictable, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Here’s an excellent visual comparison from a comprehensive book on the topic titled “Insects as Sustainable Food Ingredients: Production, Processing and Food Applications“:
The FAO has been promoting the rearing of insects for food and livestock feed for some time now to cover the needs of increasing global population, and Westerners are starting to get the message. IKEA, everyone’s favorite meatball provider, is developing meatless balls made of mealworms. These will not end world hunger, but this clearly shows mainstream adoption of insect ingredients into our meals. Looking at Crunchbase, the insect startups receiving the most funding are the ones farming insects for animal feed – like Ynsect ($24.5 million), InnovaFeed ($15 million), and Enterra Feed ($10 million). In this article, we’re going to look at 8 startups producing edible insects and insect products for human consumption. These have received much less funding than animal feed providers, which means that investors are still hesitant to believe that human consumption of insects is an economically viable business model. Here are 8 startups that believe there’s money to be made from edible insects and bugs.
Founded in 2011, Oklahoma startup All Things Bugs has raised $3.5 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture, and the mysterious US defense research institute DARPA to research insect protein and insect farming. The company’s founder and sole employee is Aaron T. Dossey, Ph.D. holder in biochemistry and research entomologist (insect scientist in plain talk) who developed a finely milled cricket powder called Griopro that can be used as a base ingredient in foods.
Griopro is the finest, lightest colored cricket powder on the market with a mild aroma that “works for sensitive applications such as protein shakes, pastas and baked goods where smooth texture, light color, and mild flavor and aroma are critical attributes”, he claims. Cricket farming is outsourced to farms in the US, and farmers are required to provide a wheat-free diet to the crickets so the end product is gluten free. Processing of the insects is done with patented proprietary technology, and the resulting powder is a high protein ingredient that can be used in all kinds of recipes. All Things Bugs has become the largest supplier of cricket powder in the U.S. and is delivering to other food providers like Exo and Chapul mentioned below.
Founded in 2013, Cambridge, Massachusetts startup Six Foods has raised $75,000 to develop snacks based on cricket flour. Their first product, Chirps Chips, is a line of tortilla chips produced in three flavors that has three times the protein and half the fat of potato chips and is also gluten free. The idea came to Rose Wang, CEO of the company, after eating her first insect, a scorpion, on a trip back to the motherland. She and her roommate (currently COO) started experimenting with cooking crickets bought at the local pet shop. (Asians have been keeping crickets as pets for years, and even gamble on cricket fights).
Fast forward a few years, and Chirps Chips are available in hundreds of U.S. stores, and of course, Amazon where you can get three packs for $20. (Kinda spendy for bugs, innit?) Besides the nutritional and sustainability arguments, they claim using crickets reduces the 60 million tons of food waste produced in the US each year as food waste becomes feed for the crickets. The team is planning to expand its portfolio to other types of foods in the near future. This is one of the rare cases where handing out C-suite positions to your friends turned out to be a good idea. The same holds true for our next startup – which also used the same logo designer as Chirps did.
Founded in 2013, San Francisco startup Bitty Foods has raised $1.2 million to develop their own version of cricket chips inspired by the Mexican delicacy chapulines. Co-founder Megan Miller read the FAO reports on insect protein which inspired her to give crickets a try. She joined forces with friend Leslie Ziegler, who had startup accelerator experience and Bitty Foods was born.
Today, all of Bitty’s crickets are sourced from U.S. farms specializing in crickets for human consumption. They are then washed, roasted, and ground to a fine powder, then mixed with cassava and coconut to create their baking flour blend. The flour is used to bake healthy air-puffed chips for $30 per three packs, and is also sold separately. (Again, there’s no way that we’re paying $10 for a bag of crisps no matter how much it helps the planet.)
Founded in 2014, Canadian startup Crik Nutrition has raised $66,000 to develop a powdered protein shake from crickets. Founder and longtime athlete Alex Drysdale was looking for a business idea to strike out as an entrepreneur when he read an article on crickets as a food source. He was convinced by the high protein content and sustainability, but didn’t find a protein shake made of crickets, so he decided to make one.
Crik Nutrition now sources its crickets from Entomo Farms (covered below) where the entire operation is built to exceed FDA quality requirements. The company is so confident in the quality of their product that it comes with a 90-days money back guarantee, no questions asked. Protein powders are available in vanilla and chocolate flavors through the Crik website and Amazon for around $40 per pound. Again, this is way too expensive when compared to Amazon’s best selling whey protein which comes in at $10 a pound. How much can this stuff really cost to make? It’s made from fcuking bugs.
Founded in 2014, Canadian startup Entomo Farms has raised undisclosed funding to establish an insect farm growing crickets and mealworms. The company has become North America’s largest edible insect producer and has received its latest (undisclosed) round of funding on 11 April this year from Maple Leaf Foods, a major Canadian packaged meats company.
Entomo produces cricket and mealworm powders as well as roasted insect snacks, supplied to over 50 food companies in eight countries. The team is experimenting with enhancing the flavor of crickets by feeding them different types of food like basil and cinnamon, so they end up having undertones of these flavors. Their whole product portfolio is available through their website along with a handful of recipes for all kinds of food with bugs in them. The new funding will be used to expand farm production and increase the number of species being farmed.
Founded in 2012, Utah startup Chapul has raised $50,000 in seed funding to develop a line of cricket protein bars and powders. Founder Pat Crowley started the business with help from friends and family to reduce freshwater waste by making insect consumption more mainstream.
With revenues close to $1.5 million, the company closed its biggest retail deal last year with organic grocery chain Sprouts Farmers Market, and is now available in hundreds of stores across the US and Canada. Chapul protein bars are also available on Amazon for about $3.10 a bar, with diverse flavors like matcha tea, dark chocolate/coffee/cayenne, and coconut/ginger/lime.
Founded in 2013, Texas startup Aspire Food Group has raised undisclosed funding to develop precision farming techniques to raise insects. The team started out with a $1 million Hult Prize and developed a semi-automated approach to raise crickets and other insects in mass, using Internet of Things, deep data analytics and robots. Their products include fertilizer additives, premium pet food and human food marketed under the Aketta brand.
Aspire is raising and promoting crickets in the US and farms palm weevil larvae in Ghana with a staff of 30 people. Just this past March they acquired Exo, another insect food startup making cricket protein bars. While details of the deal remain undisclosed, Exo had raised $5.2 million up to the acquisition which makes it the most funded startup on our list by far. Exo bars are available in Whole Foods locations and natural food markets across the United States. With Aspire’s economies of scale and Exo’s strong sales channels, the combined entity should be in a good position to continue promoting insect consumption.
The value proposition of eating insects is strong, but we need to overcome the “yuck” factor. More importantly, we need to start selling edible insects and bugs at price points that allow us to have some money leftover for beard wax and skinny jeans. Can’t some aspiring MBA figure out how to
exploit third-world labor bring much-needed jobs to poor people in order to bring costs down? That’s what a company called EntoAfrica is trying to do with their operation in Uganda that plans to produce 17 tons of crickets this year. We’re not sure what price points they’re able to hit, but scaling these farming operations will be key before insects can become comparable to livestock. Lower labor costs combined with technology from companies like Aspire should eventually help to bring down costs.
Go support the edible insects initiative by buying some edible insect products on Amazon. Take some of these snacks to work and pass them around the office so you can watch your co-workers’ reactions when you tell them that they’re actually eating insects.