As global populations and temperatures rise over the course of the coming decades, the need to sustainably and efficiently feed our planet grows as well. Entomophagy, or insect eating, may be a quirky yet simple solution to this global problem, especially in Western countries. Crickets can provide a protein-rich, efficient, and innovative food source to billions without requiring significant land use or water resources.
Shrinking glaciers, reduced snowpack, and erratic rainfall risks water supply – and therefore food supply – to key regions and up to 2 billion people.[i] According to a 2009 McKinsey study, water demand will outstrip supply by 40% by 2030.[ii] Thus, efficiently using water to produce food for human consumption is a critical objective.
Fortunately, producing crickets has many economic advantages. A key cost driver for producing livestock is animal feed. Crickets require 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and half as much as pigs and chickens to produce the same amount of protein (see Figure 1).[iii] Thus, on a relative basis, crickets are among the most efficient outputs of protein. Furthermore, crickets are cold-blooded and mature more quickly than livestock, further reducing total water needs over time. Finally, crickets yield more consumable food and reduce total waste: 80% of cricket yield is edible, compared to 40% of beef output (Figure 1). Crickets thus are a more efficient vehicle to deliver comparable amounts of protein at lower water and feed costs.
A related point is that crickets emit fewer greenhouse gases than livestock. The United Nations estimates place greenhouse gas emissions from livestock at up to 18% of the global emission, even more than the net emissions of transportation.[iv] Conversely, cricket production has very low greenhouse gas and ammonia emission rates (see Figure 2 below).[v] As investment in cricket production rises, technology can help cricket production to achieve zero landfill output via biodegradable processes.
These challenges provide an opportunity for private companies like Exo to make a difference in the global food supply chain. Exo’s entire business model and strategy is predicated on addressing climate change issues by creating a sustainable alternative to protein production.
Exo is a Brooklyn-based cricket-flour protein bars company with products that have no gluten, soy, dairy, or grain. Exo sells 60-gram bars with 10-grams of protein in flavors such as cocoa nut and apple cinnamon (see Figure 3).[vi] The crickets are frozen and dehydrated before being converted into powder, and each bar contains roughly ~40 crickets. Cricket-based protein, according to Exo, is a viable substitute for traditional protein, and has hired award-winning chefs such as Kyle Connaughton to introduce cricket protein to a new consumer base with “a lot of preconceived ideas that were negative.”[vii]
The company sources crickets from farms in the US and Canada, including Entomo Farms in Norwood, Ontario and All Things Bugs in Athens, Georgia.[viii] Exo’s growth has spillover effects on other companies in the supply chain in this market.
We should care about the success of companies like Exo because they are introducing a new and sustainable source of protein to Western consumers. Crickets can even have a self-sustaining production process, according to Exo cofounder Greg Sewitz: “One of the moonshot ideas we have is to use all the poop the crickets produce, which is a lot, to fertilize plants and then feed the plants back to them.”[ix] Exo has recently raised $4 million to increase its opportunities to demonstrate the value of cricket-based food products and production methods in relation to current practices. I would consider introducing cricket powder into other food products into additional packaged goods products beyond bars. Additionally, Exo can establish a leadership position in the supply chain by setting high supplier sustainability standards.
However, several barriers exist to widespread cricket consumption:
- Legislation: though farmers have bred cricket feed for 70 years, farming for human consumption is relatively new and regulations and laws do not clearly impose different standards on farming.[x] [xi]
- Taste and perception: Western diets typically do not include insects. Shifting consumer perception that insects are both good tasting and good nutrition can be costly and time-consuming.
In summary, crickets provide protein efficiently, at reduced emissions cost and lower water usage, in innovative food products to consumers in new markets, and help to create jobs. Hop on board the entomophagy train, and buy an Exo bar! From personal experience, they taste great.
[i] Harvard Business Publishing. Herderson, Rebecca M. and others. Climate Change in 2016: Implications for Business. Revised version: October 14, 2016.
[ii] McKinsey & Company. 2016. Charting our water future | McKinsey & Company . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability-and-resource-productivity/our-insights/charting-our-water-future. [Accessed 04 November 2016].
[iii] Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Edible Insects: future prospects for food and feed security. Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e.pdf. Accessed November 4, 2016.
[iv] Quartz. 2016. Five reasons we should all be eating insects — Quartz. [ONLINE] Available at: http://qz.com/84127/five-reasons-we-should-all-be-eating-insects/. [Accessed 04 November 2016].
[v] Ibid, FAO report.
[vi] Bloomberg.com. 2016. Exo Cricket Protein Bars Closes Series A With Rapper Nas, Top Chef – Bloomberg. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-07/exo-cricket-protein-bars-closes-series-a-with-rapper-nas-top-chef. [Accessed 04 November 2016].
[ix] Bloomberg.com. 2016. Two Young Entrepreneurs Pitch Cricket Bars for the Paleo Crowd – Bloomberg. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-02-03/two-young-entrepreneurs-pitch-cricket-bars-for-the-paleo-crowd. [Accessed 04 November 2016].
[x] The Companies Farming Crickets for Human Consumption – The Atlantic. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/09/americas-cricket-farmers/406843/. [Accessed 04 November 2016].
[xi] Ibid, FAO report.
Figure 1: Ibid, FAO report.
Figure 2: Ibid.
Figure 3: Exo Protein Company website, www.exoprotein.com. Accessed November 4, 2016.
Figure 4: Ibid.