IKEA backs Flying SpArk’s bet that fruit flies are the protein source of the future
“As far as I know, we are the only company in the world dealing with fruit flies, and we chose them for several reasons” ranging from better “public relations” aspects to improved scalability to increased versatility compared to some of the more prevalently used crickets and grasshoppers, said company co-founder and CEO Eran Gronich.
He explained, “from a marketing point of view and public relations, the fruit fly is better [than some other insects] because they only eat fruit,” which could help overcome the “ick” factor holding back some consumers.
In addition, he said raising fruit flies is virtually waste free because the company can use 100% of the insect – which it separates into fat, for an oil product, and protein, for two low-fat, high protein powders. In addition to the protein, the insects have a “phenomenal nutritional value” as they are packed with iron, calcium and magnesium – nutrients that often are lacking in diets based on only one or two staple crops.
The flies also are easier to farm and scale than some other insects, Gronich said. He explained that the lifespan of fruit flies is only six days, compared to six weeks for crickets, and they multiple 15 times in that period. Plus, they are not as susceptible to cannibalism and disease, like crickets are.
Another difference from crickets that makes fruit flies easier to scale is they are “self-harvesting” in that they “jump out of the diet they are in when they are fully developed,” Gronich said. Crickets on the other need to be hand harvested from nests and crates, which is a costly process.
Finally, he said, fruit flies are appealing because in the last eight hours of the larva stage the gut contents are fully used, resulting in an odorless, clean-tasting finished product.
“The neutral flavor and odor of our fruit fly products is a huge benefit for manufacturers because if they want to use our powder in their products they don’t need to worry about masking the flavor or the odor,” he said.
While Gronich was quick to point out the benefits of fruit flies and his products over others from different insects, he also acknowledged the huge advancements in entomology made by those who came before him.
Building on the early success of bugs as food
He explained that many of the early movers in the emerging trend of entomology chose crickets, grasshoppers and meal worms because they were “the easiest place to get started” because farms already existed for raising these insects for animal feed and labs for research. As such, entrepreneurs could simply buy the critters, mill them and sell them to establish a proof of concept before building their own facilities.
And in many respects, this strategy has worked with the small base of product launches of edible insects growing 58% from 2011 to 2015, according to global research group Innova Market Insights. More than half of these, 56%, come from crickets and they are highly concentrated in the cereal/energy bar category (32%) and make high protein claims (54%).
With this groundwork laid and some early adopting consumers warming up to the idea of insects as food, Gronich said he and his partner were able to think outside of the box and explore the use of fruit flies as a source of protein.
In addition to using a new source of protein, the company wants to expand insects as the base ingredient into new categories. In particular, he said, the company’s powder is well-suited for meat-substitute products, which currently account for only 12% of insect-based products, according to Innova Market Insights.
IKEA offers a helping hand
Gronich and his partner are not the only ones who see the potential of fruit flies and what the company is doing – IKEA does as well.
The homegoods and furniture giant brought Flying SpArk on as one of just 10 start-ups to participate in the its “bootcamp” accelerator, which is focused on sustainable products.
“This is a huge opportunity for us to be working with a giant like IKEA,” Gronich said. He explained that as a participant in the accelerator, Flying SpArk will work with IKEA for three months to develop a food product that can be served in the IKEA restaurants around the world.
“This is a huge step ahead, because IKEA is in 40 or 50 markets and has something like 650 million people walk through its restaurants in 2016. So first, all of the exposure, and second, the very high consumer trust that IKEA product have would be an amazing platform for us to penetrate the market and be accepted by customers around the world,” Gronich said.
In addition to participating in the accelerator, Gronich said Flying SpArk is in the middle of a fundraise to help pay for the building of its first facility in 2018 – an ambitious and vital component to the company’s plan of launching its ingredients and finished products by the end of 2018.
As this were not enough, Gronich said the company also is working with several manufacturers to create finished products that will appeal not just to early adopters or niche consumers, but the mainstream market as well.