“When we started back in 2014-2015, we were one of the very, very first early companies to sell food with cricket protein. At that time, nobody had really heard of the idea and it was an extreme novelty,” company co-founder Greg Sewitz told FoodNavigator-USA. As a result, he added, at first “we felt like the main purpose of the brand had to be to legitimize the idea of cricket protein as safe, healthy and a normal food source.”
To do that, the company opted for clean, simple packaging that verged on “conservative” in that it barely mentioned crickets and strictly avoided photos of the insects, Sewitz said.
But as time passed, “there has been so much media attention and so many other companies entering the space” that consumer awareness reached a point where Sewitz said Exo realized “that there is enough of an early adopter community out there that is really proud to be eating crickets” that the company no longer had to downplay the presence of insects in its bars.
“We realized that there is a minority of people out there that we are never going to convince … whether it is because they are just irrational or are just truly too grossed out to get passed the content that we felt there was no point in continuing to brand to those people, which is what we were originally doing, and instead opted to really embrace the community” that was embracing Exo, he said.
“So,” he added, “the real goal of this rebrand was to put the cricket front and center.”
And the company did – literally. Now the packaging features a small sketch of a cricket alongside line drawings of the bars’ other ingredients, such as banana, blueberries, almonds and others. The bars also declare loudly that they are cricket protein bars.
Mottos printed large on the side of the boxes also reinforce the idea of being “proudly strange and embracing weirdness and not running from it. We are owning the fact that what we are doing is odd and not for everyone,” Sewitz said.
This messaging likely resonates well with the company’s new target demographic of extreme athletes and Crossfit enthusiasts who like to view themselves as set apart from the mainstream.
To further reinforce the outreach to these consumers, the company also features on the packaging and in its marketing content its sponsored athletes and images of an active lifestyle, including rock climbing, jumping rope, swinging kettle bells and running.
“Every flavor has a different person doing some sort of activity that our consumers told us they enjoy doing in their spare time,” Sewitz said, adding, “We wanted it to feel much more active and bright and fun as opposed to the boring and almost a big conservative as in our original design because we are basically doubling down on the health and wellness and fitness community that gave us our early success.”
Sustainability messaging takes a back seat
While the new branding plays up the cricket, it plays down how the insect is more sustainable than many other protein sources – a swap that Sewitz says the company did not make lightly.
He explained that while sustainable products are important to consumers, the main reason that shoppers buy Exo is because they are looking for a complete protein and products with simple ingredient decks.
The addition of the environmental component to packaging, therefore, was actually detracting from the main sales points, Sewitz said.
Even though sustainability is taking a backseat in the marketing, it still “really does inform everything we do at the company,” he added.