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Cricket protein bar maker seeks to ‘normalize the consumption of insects’

By Kacey Culliney , 20-Aug-2013

Each Exo protein bar contains the equivalent of around 25 crickets, in powder form
Each Exo protein bar contains the equivalent of around 25 crickets, in powder form

Two young entrepreneurs have developed a high protein bar using crickets that they say have superior nutritional qualities and can go a long way in making insect consumption mainstream in America.

“I thought a protein bar could be a vehicle to introducing a new sustainable food source to the West but also a better protein,” said Exo co-founder Gabi Lewis.

“…A lot of proteins that go into bars today are so highly processed. A lot are using soy protein which is highly processed using chemicals and what you have at the end is not that healthy – it’s not a complete protein as it doesn’t have all the amino acids.”

“My entire goal is to normalize the consumption of insects… It’s a little unorthodox but ultimately it makes sense.”

The insect invasion? ‘People are ready to hear about how they can eat insects’

There has been a huge push recently to get consumers thinking about alternative protein sources, given the global food crisis. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has joined a growing body of science in flagging insects as a ‘valuable’ form of nutrition for Western consumers.

Exo is sourcing specially-fed crickets from the US

Exo is sourcing specially-fed crickets from the US

“There has been lots of conversation about increasing the consumption of insects in the US and Europe, but what was exciting for us was that very few people had taken action,” Lewis said.

“People are ready to hear about how they can eat insects.”

Exo roasts whole crickets sourced from US farms and then mills them into a fine flour. The cricket flour is used in a formulation of almond butter, dates, coconut flour and shredded coconut, raw cacao in powder form and nibs for texture, raw honey and sea salt. In total, each bar contains around 25 crickets. The chocolate-flavored bars have been designed to ‘hide’ any hint of the insects form and taste.

“Even if it’s the novelty that prompts people to taste it first, we’re hoping that it will move away from that. Novelty aside, it’s a delicious protein bar and a healthy one, which are both very rare,” he said.

Lewis and Sewitz came up with the business idea when they were college roommates

Lewis and Sewitz came up with the business idea when they were college roommates

Crowd-funding to jump-start the cricket business

The start-up, founded by Lewis and his business partner Greg Sewitz, has sourced funding on Kickstarter – a site dedicated to crowd-funding for creative projects. Exo has generated just shy of $50,000 in pledges from members of the public – nearly enough to get a co-manufacturing contract to take it off the ground as a solid business.

“Originally, the plan was to rent a commercial kitchen and make the bars ourselves,” Lewis explained. “But given the overwhelming interest, we’re now talking to several co-manufacturers to entirely outsource the manufacturing. The price would be cheaper and the bars would be closely similar in quality. Also, there are only two of us - so if we were in the kitchen all day, we would have less time to spend on branding.”

He said Exo wants to work with one US-based co-manufacturer and is assessing its options at the moment.

Lewis is sure Exo bars can stand strong alongside competition

Lewis is sure Exo bars can stand strong alongside competition

As big as Clif Bar, PowerBar? ‘I think we can do it’, says Lewis

Lewis has big hopes for the business and said it could, and likely will, grow to be competitive alongside some of America’s biggest nutrition bar players like Clif Bar and PowerBar.

“I think we can do it. A lot of people are persuaded to try new protein bars by the lack of quality in many. Most don’t taste very good and are loaded with sugar,” he said.

This bar has been developed by a Michelin star chef – adding edge to the level of taste and quality – he said. The cricket flour’s nutritional content is also a step above the rest, he said.

Priced at around $2.80, the bars will sit at the upper end of the market once in stores.

Just a tight niche? Or is there wider appeal?

“It’s a niche target to start,” Lewis said. “But I think protein is becoming the new nutrition buzz word. In nutrition, one thing I think is increasingly agreed on is that protein is good for you.”

The cricket bar makers will target health-conscious consumers initially – particularly those on the paleo or ‘cave man’ diet – but eventually hopes to spark broader appeal among any consumer looking for a healthy snack, the co-founder said.

Exo will strengthen in the US before it targets Europe, he said. Asia is not on the agenda, he said, as it wouldn’t make business sense. “What we’re doing is taking insects and creating a powder you’d never know is insects – it wouldn’t be necessary in Asia where they are used to eating insects.”

Cricket bars can already be found in the US - Utah-based firm Chapul sells them online in three flavors and candy firm Hotlix also retails 'bug' lollipops.

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