Investors are betting big money on the idea that people will eat crickets if they come in a familiar, tasty form -- in this case, a protein bar. So far, so good.
Greg Sewitz and Gabi Lewis were students at Brown University when they ordered a shipment of 2,000 live crickets. The two friends wanted to see if there was a way to process crickets into an appealing edible form. Having learned about the tremendous environmental benefits of insect protein relative to other food sources, they believe it is the way of the future. The key is getting people to take that first bite of bug-filled food, which is easier said than done.
Using an oven, a Vitamix, and a vague recipe for cricket flour off the Internet, Greg and Gabi began an experiment that has resulted in a hugely successful start-up called Exo that makes protein bars made of cricket flour. The company’s initial Kickstarter campaign raised $20,000 in only 72 hours, with an impressive additional $1.5 million in seed funding in 2014.
Earlier this month, Exo got a whopping $4 million in Series A funding from Accel Foods, as well as financial backing from Start Garden, celebrity rapper Nas, Tough Mudder champion Amelia Boone, and 4-Hour Workweek author Tim Ferris. Clearly investors believe that people are willing to start eating crickets.
TechCrunch reports: "[Crickets] comprise about 13 percent of all consumed insects. Sewitz is adamant they are a healthy protein alternative (13 grams per serving), calling them the 'gateway bug' and comparing the taste to a roasted nut."
I didn’t know if I was up for the challenge when a box of Exo bars arrived in my mailbox. With yummy-sounding flavors (banana bread, apple cinnamon, cocoa nut, peanut butter and jelly, blueberry vanilla) and slick marketing in the form of an infographic brochure explaining why cricket protein makes sense, I had to give it a try. I opened up the blueberry vanilla bar, informed my 6- and 4-year-old sons that each bite contains five crickets, and we chowed down. It was a hit – delicious, chewy, and moist – although I must admit I was uncomfortably aware of every crunch and inconsistency in texture. The boys loved it and I was forced to admit it was the most normal-tasting (read: not synthetic and gross artificial-tasting) protein bar I’ve ever had.
It’s fascinating to think that 80 percent of the world consumes insects on a regular basis, and yet North Americans struggle so deeply with the concept. It’s all about what you’re used to; here, we recoil at the thought of eating horses and dogs, while people in India won’t touch a cow while opting for goat. It really should be less gross to eat an insect than the flesh of an adorable lamb or intelligent pig, but entomophagy (eating insects) has not yet been normalized here.
Faced with the option of eating crickets, many self-professed protein junkies are forced to assess whether their predilection for meat really is about the protein, as they claim it is, or just because they love an excuse to eat excessive quantities of meat. Somehow crickets won’t appeal to most people quite so much as a steak.
It’s hard to argue with Exo’s stance when you learn the following fascinating statistics.
Go ahead; I dare you to order a box of Exo bars and tell me you don't like them!