Ready for a heaping serving of mealworms? How about a handful of delicious crickets?
Enterprising bug farmers and chefs are cashing in on “edible insects” and finding ways to entice U.S. consumers to try their buggy creations. More than two billion people around the world already eat insects, according to the United Nations, which promotes insect eating as a way to provide people with protein-packed food and reduce greenhouse gases, among other benefits.
Now, innovative entrepreneurs in the U.S. are working to popularize insect eating here. Who are these “bugpreneurs”? What are their secrets to success? And how can you get in on the buggy action?
Meet the “Bugpreneurs”
Monica Martinez whips up batches of chocolate-covered salted crickets, spicy superworms and other tasty treats in a commercial kitchen she rents in San Francisco. Her company, Don Bugito Prehispanic Snackeria, is trying to convince Americans to eat some of the insect-based treats that are popular in Mexico.
Martinez sells the snacks online and at a kiosk. Her protein-packed snacks are catching on, but she still has to overcome the “ick” factor she faces with many would-be eaters.
Another bugpreneur, Megan Miller of Bitty Foods, sells cookies made from cricket-based flour. Her target market is families, and she aims to offer healthy snacks for kids. She says her treats have half the sugar of typical cookies, yet pack twice the protein punch. They come in a few flavors, including orange-ginger and classic chocolate chip.
By using powdered insects, which are not readily identifiable to the average consumer, Miller believes consumers will slowly make the conversion and start eating insects. She thinks that eating cricket flour-based products is more palatable to an average insect-wary consumer than chowing down on a whole cricket, legs and all.
One Boston-based company, Six Foods, even raised over $70,000 through a Kickstarter campaign for “Chirps” pre-orders. A “Chirp” is a tortilla chip made from… you guessed it, ground cricket flour.
Of course, the edible insect trend also benefits cricket farmers and cricket flour producers. Did you even know those were jobs? One farming company, Big Cricket Farms, produces 8,000 pounds of crickets each month and it is working to ramp up production to meet fast-rising demand.
How Can You Cash In on the Trend?
The edible bug business in the U.S. is worth about $20 million. How can you cash in on its popularity and get a cut of that for yourself? Check out these roles in the industry.
To create an insect-based product, you’ll need bugs. Lots of them. Since crickets are one of the most popular insects to eat, many farmers focus their efforts on the hopping creatures.
However, being a cricket farmer requires specialized knowledge. Next Millennium Farms even customizes their crickets’ feed in order to provide buyers with exactly the base material they’re looking for. They can create Vitamin A-enriched insects by feeding them carrots, or cinnamon and apple flavored ones by feeding them a specialized diet. Farmers must also carefully log the insects’ diets and other factors regarding their care per government regulations. Cricket ranchers typically harvest the insects at seven weeks of age.
But you don’t need your own farm to get into the cricket farming business. Contact a number of different farms to see if they’re hiring. Many are in need of a helping hand, since it takes a lot of work to keep producing the tasty critters.
If the kitchen is where you work your magic, consider developing insect-based edibles. From cookies and candies to energy bars and tortilla chips, the market is growing rapidly. Modify your favorite recipes and add a special six-legged ingredient to try your hand at the edible insect trade. Many chefs sell their items through the Internet, kiosks or even food trucks.
Tiny Farms is a San Francisco-based consulting firm that specializes in helping people set up their edible insect companies and making them profitable. They work to consult with clients, as well as design farm habitats that serve to efficiently produce the bugs. If you’re experienced and have knowledge to share, consider working as a consultant.
Tips for Success in the Edible Insect Business
Before plunging right into the world of edible insects, take some time to plot your strategy and consider the best ways to leverage your experience and skills in order to help people enjoy tasty, insect-based products.
Overcome the Ick Factor
Branding is key to helping consumers get over the initial “ick” factor that many Americans face when trying to consume an insect. By marketing your products as delicious and healthful, you can bridge the gap and help people be more willing to try them.
Try starting off using ground insect flour or other insect-based products that don’t necessarily look like the creatures they are derived from. Once consumers are more comfortable with the idea of eating bugs, consider branching out into more bug-shaped items.
Or, if you want to go against the grain, embrace the ick factor and target people who love the idea of eating creepy things — kids. Remember those lollipops with bugs in them?
Make It Taste Great
If you’re creating a food item, it’s incredibly important to make sure it’s delicious. Refine your recipes and spend the time it takes to make sure you have the recipe just right. It’s better to wait a little longer to release your product than to turn off customers who may try your product once, be displeased, and vow never to eat insects again.
Follow the Rules
Producing animals or food for consumption requires compliance with numerous rules from farming authorities and health and safety departments. Be sure to contact the appropriate offices before starting your business to make sure you are in full compliance with all laws and regulations. Contact your local health and safety department to get started.
Consult with a Pro
Consider hiring an edible insect consultant to help you get off the ground in this business. Companies such as Tiny Farms specialize in sharing their unique knowledge. An initial investment can help you be prepared to go all in and even help you prepare to scale up your business quickly if you meet initial success. By planning ahead, you can help your business thrive.
If you don’t want to hire a consultant, consider setting up a mentorship or apprenticeship with another business in your target area, like a cricket farm or insect bakery, so you can learn the ropes before going out on your own.
Your Turn: Will you be hopping on the edible insect bandwagon?
Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.