By: Mike Montgomery
“It is widely accepted that by 2050 the world will host 9 billion people. To accommodate this number, current food production will need to almost double.” So begins the 200-page United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report from 2013 that advocates eating insects as an end run around a looming food crisis. When a handful of Western entrepreneurs read it, they sensed an opportunity.
Since then, startups in the U.S. and Canada have demonstrated that people can overcome their squeamishness and be persuaded to eat bugs such as crickets, lured by their high protein and low environmental impact. (In other parts of the world, of course, dining on insects is an accepted custom.) Exo, one of the leading makers of cricket-flour protein bars, announced in March that it had closed a $4 million round of Series A funding. The company, which I wrote about last year, will use the investment in part to increase production and expand its product line.
Chapul, another cricket-bar maker, recently moved into national distribution, selling products with flavors like Aztec (dark chocolate) and Thai (coconut, ginger and lime) in nearly 1,000 retail locations, including chains such as Sprouts and Publix. Chapul, which was featured on Shark Tank in 2014 — earning an investment from Mark Cuban — recently won a grant from the state of Utah to industrialize its process for making cricket flour.
It’s premature to say that eating crickets has gone mainstream, but the idea has lost its shock value. “For cricket farmers who were using their job as a pickup line, it’s not working anymore because it’s not as sexy,” jokes Mohammed Ashour, chief executive of Aspire Food Group, which sells cricket flour and whole crickets.
As the edible-bug industry has matured, here’s what its pioneers have learned about challenging cultural taboos and developing a new market.