Co-founder Daniel Imrie-Situnayake, who started Tiny Farms in 2012 with web-designer friends Andrew and Jena Brentano, has been seeking to optimize every aspect of the insect rearing and harvesting process such that Tiny Farms - and partners using its methodologies under license - will be able to slash production costs and transform the economics of bug-farming.
He told FoodNavigator-USA: “We’ve fundamentally rethought the structure of how an insect farm works. Most of the companies in this space are still operating using fairly traditional techniques and while we’re late to the game in that we’re only starting out now, we’ve spent the last three years trying to work out how to do things differently, because if you carry on using traditional techniques – big sheds full of boxes, you won’t be cost competitive in the long-term.”
We see the operation as an R&D hub and pilot plant as well as a commercial facility
While Tiny Farms will raise its own crickets and process them into powders for sale to CPG and foodservice companies, however, the focus of its business will be licensing its technology such that other cricket farmers can produce crickets to Tiny Farms’ specifications and sell them back to Tiny Farms for processing, Imrie-Situnayake explained.
He added: “Longer-term it probably doesn’t make sense for a farm in the Midwest to be shipping out tons of frozen crickets to California to be processed [at Tiny Farms' San Leandro facility], so we expect to create networks of processing facilities that will start to appear on a regional basis.
“But in the short term, we can buy frozen crickets from partners and process them in San Leandro. We're all set up here and are about half way through our ‘ramp up’ process; we have several million crickets on their way from egg to adult. We expect our first harvest in the next few weeks.
“But we see the operation as an R&D hub and pilot plant as well as a commercial facility, where we can demonstrate continuous improvements and share the learnings with our partners.”
Tiny Farms co-founder Daniel Imrie-Situnayake - who specializes in automatic identification data capture (technologies used to monitor and collect data around industrial processes) – recently secured a round of seed funding (which included contributions from Mark Zuckerberg’s sister Arielle) that has enabled the company to complete work on the facility at an old Dodge car factory.
It’s not a get rich quick scheme
So if you’re an aspiring bug farmer, how can you work with Tiny Farms?
“It’s not a get rich quick scheme,” stresses Imrie-Situnayake.
“There’s a lot of work involved, as it is when you raise any kind of animal, you need to control the diet, the water, the temperature, the humidity, the airflow, the habitat. Our proprietary system covers everything including an application that enables you to monitor your assets and inventory, traceability, and so on.”
In terms of the hardware needed to raise crickets, standard commercially available construction materials can be used, he said. “We specify everything you need, but it’s not a case of us shipping heavy proprietary equipment out or anything like that.”
Tiny Farms has already had interest from almost 100 applicants interested in getting into the bug farming game, he said, while it has also had non-binding commitments from lots of companies producing retail products utilizing cricket powders who are interested in sourcing cricket powders from Tiny Farms or its partners in future, he said.
“One of the first things we did when we started to fundraise to build our plant was talk to companies and ask what their volume requirements and pricing expectations were and within two weeks we had about a million bucks worth of non-binding sales agreements, so we actually stopped asking after a bit. We’ve sent samples to some pretty big companies.”
Spray drying yields a different product
On the processing side, Tiny Farms will initially put the insects to sleep using carbon dioxide, freeze them, roast and then grind them, but is now working with food scientists to introduce a different approach involving preparing the bugs into a slurry and then spray drying them, which will yield a finer, more neutral-tasting powder, he said.
“If you roast and grind you can get quite a nutty, coffee-like, roasted kind of taste, but spray drying enables a different product. But it depends on what customers want. We’ll be able to offer both.”