Some entrepreneurs are driven by quick fixes. They see financial gain all around. Others are holistic thinkers, looking to solve a problem that might persist beyond their lifetime.
The cricket farmers you’ll meet in this episode are trying to solve a deep problem that is likely to persist. We need to create a lot of protein.
Making edible protein consumes resources. Not only is the world population growing — the United Nations predicts there will be nine billion people on Earth by 2050 — but rising income levels mean that more people can afford meat. When the demand for protein exceeds the plant’s carrying capacity, there will be an environmental crash and people will go hungry. This reasoning is a driver of the “why eat crickets” argument. Our demands for protein cannot exceed the Earth’s carrying capacity. or we are done. You might say the pathway to survival involves choosing one of two human engineering projects.
- Convince people to eat less meat protein.
- Convince people to eat bugs instead of cows.
Crickets provide protein efficiently, and they also might provide health benefits by providing probiotic fiber. There’s a massive shift in health and nutrition science going on, a deepening understanding how the gut biome enhances overall human health. there’s evidence that diseases like Parkinsons and Alzheimers start in the gut biome. Will that convince you to eat crickets? Cricket protein might help fight diabetes by regulating glucose.
Jarrod Goldin, a co-founder of Entomo Farms, cites evidence of the health benefits of cricket protein. He also cites a story from South Korea that suggests that hospital patients who ate food fortified with cricket protein got better, faster.
Andrew Brentano, a co-founder of Tiny Farms, also interviewed in the podcast, talks about the market for cricket protein expanding from humans to dogs and cats.
In engineering, water and energy savings are the easy calculations. It’s the human engineering that is hard. What will it take for you to eat a cricket even if it is unrecognizable as a bug and supplied as a powder?
Click on any play button to hear that part of the transcript. To hear the whole episode, click on the play button below.
Lee Schneider: It’s the Future of Food, I’m Lee Schneider.
[SOUND EFFECTS: Crickets]
NARRATION: Do you think you would ever eat one of those? A bug? I’m betting that soon enough you will or your dog will. Let’s back this out a little, go wide angle, look at the nature of entrepreneurs and food. Some entrepreneurs are driven by quick fixes. They see financial gain all around. Others are holistic thinkers looking to solve a problem that might persist beyond their lifetime. That is the challenge Jarrod Goldin faces as he looks a cricket in the eye. He is a co-founder of Entomo Farms, the largest cricket farm in North America.
If you like food that’s healthy, then the time for crickets has come. If you like food that has a sustainable footprint, then the time has come. And if you like food that’s yummy and delicious, then the time has come.
// Jarrod Goldin
Jarrod Goldin: If you like food that’s healthy, then the time for crickets has come. If you like food that has a sustainable footprint, then the time has come. And if you like food that’s yummy and delicious, then the time has come.
NARRATION: Outside Norwood, Ontario in Canada, Entomo Farms has retrofitted 60,000 square feet of former chicken barns and turned them into cricket condos. How many crickets fit in 60,000 square feet? About 100 million, easily populating the humans of Norwood who number 1380, give or take a new baby.
[SOUND EFFECTS: Baby gurgling.]
Entomo has a few more thousand square feet dedicated to turning its crickets into edible powders, seasonings and fried crickets.
Lee: Jarrod, welcome to the podcast. Making edible protein consumes resources. The average person needs 50 grams of protein a day and even that much requires a lot of water, and especially if it’s say beef or chicken. Why would it be good for us to allocate more of those protein production resources toward cricket production?
Jarrod: For us, it’s about choice and alternatives. And unfortunately, the amount of water it requires to produce grains to feed cows is not a great conversion ratio. Cows convert the feed they eat at about 10% into food and that’s why it’s so water intensive to raise beef, whereas crickets convert almost all of the grain they eat into food, we’re at about 80% conversion ratio. And that is why the same amount of protein requires far less water.
NARRATION: Let’s hit those numbers again because numbers matter in the cricket business. The average human must consume 50 grams of protein a day. Cows convert about 10% of the food they consume into protein humans can eat. Crickets convert 80% of the food they eat into protein for you and me. You get a lot more protein for a lot less energy and less water.
Lee: Who is the buyer? Do you have a way for people to purchase from your website or most of your customers though individuals or chefs or distributors?
Jarrod: Most of our customers are business-to-business customers. We’re primarily a wholesale supplier of the cricket powder into other industries and businesses where they’re making everything from pasta to crackers, from protein bars to chips, and that’s the majority of our business. But we do do some retail through stores all over North America and other places, and of course, we have the online store as well where we sell some of our products.
NARRATION: People in Southeast Asia and Mexico have been eating whole fried crickets for years, but the cricket you encounter may be unrecognizable as a bug. As Jarrod just said, he is mostly B2B selling cricket powder to businesses. In fact, Entomo started making what it called cricket flour and realized the miscalculation.
Jarrod: I think in the beginning, to some degree, we made a mistake calling it cricket flour because people expected it to cost the same that flour does and react the same that flour does. So we’ve transitioned into really trying to call it cricket powder and then it may seem more like whey protein powder or other kinds of powders where people would understand there’s a difference between that and flour.
It’s the cricket powder that’s changed the game for the consumer to consider entering the category.
A story I love to tell when my daughters were younger, no matter what I bribed them with as far as food went, all they would eat is plain white pasta with butter. That’s all they wanted and now the idea that you could fortify the butter with cricket powder and you could fortify the pasta with cricket powder could be a game-changer because it’s not just the protein, you know it is almost 70% protein, but the other 30% of the nutrition profile is tremendous. It’s got very, very healthy prebiotic fiber. It’s got a ton of iron and B12, omega-3 oils and all other kinds of vitamins and minerals.
This journey we’ve been on to educate the public about the benefits, it started with the whole “ick factor.” Then the conversation moved to “tell us more about the sustainability story, what data do you have.” And now the conversation moved into what are the health benefits.
// Jarrod Goldin
Lee: Yeah, let’s back over that a little bit. I want to get into that a little bit more, the special health benefits of insect protein.
Jarrod: From the media’s perspective, this journey we’ve been on to educate the public about the benefits, it started with the whole “ick factor.” All anybody wanted to talk about is how do you get over the ick factor. And then the conversation moved, in 2015-ish, 2016, to “tell us more about the sustainability story, what data do you have, how can you show us or demonstrate that it’s got a great sustainability story.” And now the conversation moved into what are the health benefits.
NARRATION: Jarrod mentioned a study suggesting that the minerals in crickets were more bioavailable, better absorbed by the human gut than minerals in meat. Cricket protein might help fight diabetes by regulating glucose. He cited another study from South Korea that suggested that hospital patients who ate food fortified with cricket protein got better faster.
Jarrod: The body of evidence is really building that there’s something here.
Lee: So this is what you mean when you talk about it being a therapeutic food?
Jarrod: Functional food, therapeutic food, yes, yes. It’s very good for the gut biome and the gut microbiota that has a prebiotic fiber. It feeds very healthy biotics in the gut. So I think there’s a myriad of health reasons, some we understand, some we’re learning, and some we don’t know about yet.
NARRATION: There’s a massive shift in health and nutrition science going on, a deepening understanding of how the gut biome enhances overall human health. There’s evidence that diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s start in the gut biome. When it comes to engineering, water and energy savings are the easy calculations. It’s the human engineering that is hard. You might be more likely to eat a cookie that had some bug protein in it than you would eat the bug itself. If you were a dog, you wouldn’t care either way.
[SOUND EFFECTS: Dog barking]
NARRATION: Andrew Brentano, co-founder of Tiny Farms, takes a different approach and you get a clue about it from the name of his company. Tiny Farms doesn’t believe in building a large cricket farm, but instead in a network of smaller operations.
Lee: Andrew, welcome to the podcast. What are some of those benefits of the network approach to cricket farming?
Andrew Brentano: One of the big ones is that basically anytime that you put a lot of animals or plants or any living being into one place, you’ve got a higher risk that if there were a pathogen that got in there or a pest or something like that, it’s a much bigger target basically. And it’s the same kind of problem you have in the massive monoculturing of staple crops in traditional agriculture where we have millions of acres of corn or soy and then you get these huge infestations of different pests or blights that need to be combatted with different chemicals. So by having a more distributed modular approach, you’ll be able to really buffer against that kind of problem.
NARRATION: Andrew has run the same math as Jarrod. A world population of 9 billion by 2050, per capita levels of protein consumption rising because of increased wealth in developing countries.
Andrew: Well, the first things that people spend money on when their standard of living starts rising is more animal protein. That’s because it’s very good for you. It’s very satisfying when you eat it. It’s delicious. And this is kind of causing things to come to a head because we really can’t produce that much more of our traditional livestock. We are already using half of the farmland on earth just growing the feed for the cows and pigs and chickens. So it’s not a lot left to kind of tap out. So we really need to start finding ways to produce more of that high-quality protein that people need and want, but using a much smaller amount of the initial resources.
You might say the pathway to survival involves choosing one of two human engineering projects. Project one, convince people to eat less meat protein. Project two, convince people to eat bugs instead of cows.
// Lee Schneider
NARRATION: You might say the pathway to survival involves choosing one of two human engineering projects. Project one, convince people to eat less meat protein. Project two, convince people to eat bugs instead of cows. But there is a third door and it involves switching the allocation of resources. If we have to produce a lot of protein, why not give some of that bug protein to the dogs?
Andrew: There are 200 million dogs and cats, and those dogs and cats are eating a huge amount of meat. We estimate that the pet food industry is buying about a billion dollars’ worth of meat every year just to put into the dog food basically that these animals are eating. At the same time, we’ve got consumer trends that are demanding more sustainable cleaner labels for pet food and even higher contents of animal protein.
People are moving away from grain-based and plant-based proteins for their dogs and cats because they’re believed to be less healthy in some cases. This gives us a really great opportunity to introduce this really high-quality and highly sustainable cricket protein as an alternative, so you can kind of please everyone. We’ll be able to give that clean label sustainable protein really high-quality nutrition. At the same time, you’re not gonna have this competition with the existing meat supply that other humans want to eat as well.
There are 200 million dogs and cats, and those dogs and cats are eating a huge amount of meat. We estimate that the pet food industry is buying about a billion dollars’ worth of meat every year.
// Andrew Brentano
NARRATION: You might be tempted to think of Andrew and Jarrod as outliers taking a nerd’s eye view of protein production. They are anything but. Most modern farmers are data nerds who obsess about inputs, water, sunlight, nutrients in the soil, or other growth media. The fundamental drivers of the cost of protein production are those inputs, plus labor and the cost of the space you raise your animals in, which makes crickets an attractive fast-growing crop that takes up less space. Systems thinking like this is unassailable in its cold logic, but is it enough to get you to eat a cricket? Will that ick factor ever go away? Jarrod Goldin believes it already has.
Jarrod: We’re looking at food in two ways. It’s either healthy and will help you live a long and healthy life, or it won’t. It will cause diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other things. And to me, foods that cause illness and disease should be the icky or yucky foods. And foods that make you healthier and help you live longer should be called good and yummy, and anything but yucky and icky.
Lee: I had one more question for Andrew Brentano of Tiny Farms, were the cricket farmers in this very new market fighting amongst themselves like, well, like bugs?
Andrew: It doesn’t really concern us so much because we’re grateful for it. This is such a new idea kind of to the mainstream market, using insect protein, that we’re really building a market from scratch for this product. And the best way to do that is to get as much of this product out into the market as possible and to be able to support as many consumer plants as possible that are actually getting this out there into people’s hands. The only way for that to happen is to have as much production as possible. So we really see the kind of as more complement than competition to have other people producing both other insects and other cricket producers. We’re kind of building this space together.
We’re looking at food in two ways. It’s either healthy and will help you live a long and healthy life or it won’t. It will cause diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other things. And to me, foods that cause illness and disease should be the icky or yucky foods. And foods that make you healthier and help you live longer should be called good and yummy and anything but yucky and icky.
// Jarrod Goldin
Lee: Thanks to Andrew and Jarrod for being on the podcast. Go to futurefood.fm for show notes, transcripts and more. Sign up for the mailing list over at futurefood.fm and never miss an episode. I’m Lee Schneider, see you next time.