“Thanks to the internet and social media, consumers all over the world are learning about and accepting new foods much more quickly,” co-founder Bicky Nguyen told FoodNavigator-USA.
“Of course crickets won’t completely replace traditional animal proteins, but they are another option, and if prices come down, attitudes will change,” predicted Nguyen, who co-founded Cricket One about two years ago and started commercial production around six months ago.
“Right now, if you are a small US snack food manufacturer, for example, and you’re buying cricket powder from a US or Canadian supplier, you are still paying $20-25 a pound. If you buy from a European company, you are probably paying 70-120 euros per kilo [roughly $39-67/lb]. Prices have dropped a bit in the last few years, but not significantly, because production systems aren’t very scalable and costs are high.
“Our product is much more competitive. US customers buying our product through a distributor are typically paying less than half of that, but our products meet the highest quality standards. We have a minimum of 68% protein and we monitor and trace every single batch of production, for safety and quality and nutritional values.
“Our ambition is to be the leading premium supplier in this market and to make cricket protein more affordable and accessible to the mass market.”
We have compacted a 100sq m traditional cricket farm into a 40ft climate-controlled container
The secret to Cricket One's success relates to a business model that utilizes by-products from cassava – a major crop in Vietnam – as food for crickets, and a series of abandoned shipping containers that it has kitted out as intensive breeding units that it can monitor remotely, said Nguyen.
“We have compacted a 100sq m traditional cricket farm into a 40ft climate-controlled container for raising crickets,” explained Nguyen, who has been working with tropical entomologist Professor Arnold van Huis, a professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands (where Cricket One now has a sales office) and one of the most well-known researchers in the embryonic edible insects field.
“Each unit is assigned with an ID number, so we can trace each batch coming from each unit.
“We provide the cassava farmers with the breeding unit at no upfront cost, plus 10 day-old crickets, and we provide initial training on feed processing and breeding. The farmers provide the labor – which is minimal – and cassava waste, which we show them how to prepare – and they can earn extra income.”
When it’s time for the crickets to be harvested, Cricket One sends a refrigerated truck to the breeding units, collects the crickets and takes them to its central processing facility.
Once they arrive, Cricket One removes the non-cricket parts, washes them, freezes them to put them to sleep, blanches (boils) them as a food safety step and then oven dries and mills them, she said. “Some clients want whole crickets they can deep fry and season, and some want cricket powders to use in snacks, cereals and other products. Some want defatted products – it depends on the market.
“Our main segments are snacks, chips, energy bars and so on, but we also supply the petfood market.”
We’re not using commercial animal feed as the food source for the crickets
She added: “As far as I know, we’re the only company not using commercial animal [usually chicken] feed as the food source for the crickets, which saves a lot of money, and means the farmers are not burning the cassava waste anymore. The frass [cricket poop] collected from farming can also be used to manufacture organic soluble fertilizer.
“We have a central parenting farm and a processing facility that produces three metric tons a month, which makes us a medium supplier in this industry, but if we close our funding round, we’re aiming to triple production in the next six months.
“Right now, our strategy is to be an industrial ingredients supplier, but we are also working on a refined cricket oil for the cosmetics and pharma industries, and a protein concentrate for the fitness and clinical nutrition industries.”