Maple Leaf Foods invests in Entomo Farms as Loblaws bets big on edible insects

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Maple Leaf Foods invests in Entomo Farms as Loblaws bets big on edible insects
Edible insects remain a niche in American food culture, but recent moves from two major industry stakeholders – Loblaws and Maple Leaf Foods – suggest they could edge into the mainstream more quickly than many commentators originally envisaged, predicts Jarrod Goldin, co-founder at Canadian insect farmer and processor Entomo Farms.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after Maple Leaf took a minority stake in Entomo Farms, and Loblaws launched a cricket powder under its President’s Choice private label made with Entomo Farms’ ingredients, Goldin said Loblaws was also planning to launch additional bug-fueled products under the President’s Choice brand this year.

“To have two such trusted Canadian brands validate what we’re doing, but also the edible insects category as a whole, is very exciting. We've also seen IKEA - a very high profile global brand - talk about experimenting with edible insects ​[in its 'space lab' test kitchen​ in Copenhagen] so I think things are changing. 

"We’ve grown from 5,000sq ft to 60,000sq ft and we’re hoping to add an additional 200,000sq ft by the end of the year," ​added Goldin, who co-founded Entomo's human nutrition operation in 2014 with his brothers Darren and Ryan - had been raising crickets for the pet market ​for more than a decade prior.

Maple Leaf – which is best-known for its meat proteins, but has also become a growing force in the plant-based protein market via the acquisitions of  Lightlife Foods and Field Roast - had been talking to Entomo for about a year before investing in the company, he said.

“We’d been talking to them for while about insects as feed for hogs and then one thing led to another and then we started having formal talks about Maple Leaf Foods being a strategic investor.”

Crickstart-Bars-Lemon-Lime_800x

Snacks, bars and protein powders are the top application areas of interest for edible insect powders, which are high in protein (65% by dry weight), low in saturated fat and rich in omega-3s, iron, calcium and other nutrients.

However, cricket powder also works well in veggie burgers, sausages, fruit rollups, shakes and other products. Inclusion rates vary by product, and are in many cases limited by cost rather than functionality, although you can generally get more in a bar, than say, chips.

As cricket powder is more like a protein powder than flour, 1:1 replacements with wheat flour are not generally advised.

A consistent nutritional and flavor profile

While some smaller food brands in North America are sourcing their cricket powder from Thailand, Vietnam and other countries, many buyers – particularly larger ones – like dealing with suppliers closer to home and are seeking out companies certified by organizations compliant with GFSI standards, he said.

loblaws cricket powder
Loblaw's President's Choice cricket powder

“We’ll soon be GFSI certified under the BRC Global Standard, which was very important to Loblaws, for example.

"I don’t want to bash anyone else in the market, as suppliers from overseas can offer a great deal of transparency, but some buyers just prefer to buy from an American or Canadian supplier. It's also very important to be able to guarantee a consistent nutrition and flavor profile."

While increased efficiency in edible insect breeding, farming and processing will bring prices down, said Goldin, comparing cricket powder on a price per pound basis with plant-based protein powders with a very different nutritional profile is not helpful.

“The FAO pushed this idea that insects are a super cheap source of ‘alternative’ protein, but actually the micronutrients are at a higher concentration than in steak and far more bioavailable, so you have to look at the value proposition in a different way. People are looking at a Ferrari but they think they see a BMW and they are wondering why they are being charged for a Ferrari. But this is a very high value ingredient loaded with iron, vitamin B12, and high quality easily digestible  complete protein.”

Entomo Farms supplies over 50 companies in eight countries with cricket and mealworm ingredients for protein bars, smoothies, chips, crackers, pasta and pasta sauce, baking mixes, hot dogs, and pet treats.

michael_mccain-Maple-leaf-foods-ceo

“Our minority venture investment in Entomo is consistent with our vision to be the most sustainable protein company on earth. Entomo Farms and Maple Leaf’s products will be separate, but we are excited to help foster their continued leadership in insect protein and aspiration to become the largest insect protein supplier in the world. We see a long-term role in this form of sustainable protein delivery, both for animal and human consumption, as it is elsewhere in the world.”

Michael McCain, president and CEO, Maple Leaf Foods

Vertical integration

Speaking to us at the IFT show last year​ about the most efficient way to manufacture insect products at scale, Entomo Farms co-founder Darren Goldin said that at this stage of the industry’s evolution it made a lot of sense to be vertically integrated (Entomo Farms raises and​​ processes its insects unlike some other players in the trade).

But he added: “I​​ see in the future you might have contract producers ​​[bug farmers] and centralized processing… The processing equipment is incredibly expensive and it could be prohibitive for farmers that just want to produce protein. If you look at traditional farming, chicken, pork and beef, generally you have farmers and animals go to a centralized processor. ​​

“But right now being vertically integrated… gives us the control and flexibility that we need.” ​​

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