While insect protein has generated a lot of interest as a sustainable protein source, industry focus has equally been on the difficulty and riskiness of trying to market the 'unmarketable'.
But Israeli start-up, Steak TzarTzar believes it has found the answer.
A novel approach for a novel food
It will simultaneously target two very different consumer markets with different insect-based products - whole grasshoppers in East Africa, where insects are seen as a delicacy, and a protein shake for the Western sports nutrition market.
In this way it can use the profits from the risk-free, easily accessible African market to keep the price of its protein powder down - thus guaranteeing a competitive edge.
Co-founders Dror Tamir and Ben Friedman told NutraIngredients that in countries such as Uganda, grasshoppers were caught in the wild - meaning they suffered from a supply problem.
“There are only grasshoppers for about one month a year. During the high season people eat about six billion in Uganda but it’s a temporary [market].”
This meant that the price was high - pound for pound they were double the price of cattle, said Tamir.
By farming grasshoppers at its facility in Israel, Steak TzarTzar – tzar is Hebrew for grasshopper – would provide the east African market with a year-round supply.
Athletes - the early adopters
Meanwhile it would also break into the sports nutrition market.
Although cricket flour could already be found on the US market the nutritional value of grasshoppers was much higher, explained Tamir, with 100 g of grasshopper flour packing 30 g of protein compared with 9.6 g for crickets.
It also contained essential amino acids, omega-3, oleic acid, iron, magnesium and zinc.
Tamir, who used to be on Israel's national athletics team, said consumers of the sports nutrition market were ideal for breaking down the initial insect barrier.
“Athletes are early adopters, they will try anything that will improve their performance. Take a look at the drugs they are using, take a look at Lance Armstrong. They almost kill themselves trying to perform better!
“We are counting on those early adapters... to launch our product.”
The powder will be ready to hit the market by autumn this year, with the founders currently on the hunt for an existing sports nutrition manufacturer to market the product in the US.
While also interested in Europe, they said that regulatory issues could make things tricky - although Steak TzarTzar is a member of the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed in a bid to suss out the prospects for selling in Europe.
Managing two markets would be tough – but would also ensure success, said Dror.
“Targeting two different markets with two different products is a great challenge. Our goal is to start with the whole insects products first - the demand we see in the target markets will help start mass production from day one.
"This will assist us enjoy high efficiency and low production costs [for the protein powder]."
Tamir was confident that both products would be embraced in their respective markets as both were innovative concepts which surpassed existing products in terms of price, better availability for the whole grasshoppers boasted and a better nutritional content for the protein shake.
Success would come first in the African market due to low barriers of entry, he said - simple regulation, no competition and existing demand.
And while both markets were different, they had one common factor - nutrition - which was also Tamir and Friedman's driving passion.
Friedman said: “In the west the product is a luxury but in the African market it’s a question of nutrition and survival. Each market is standalone but I personally want the African market to be a success. [Fighting malnutrition] is the reason we’re in the business.”