It states, “It is widely accepted that by 2050 the world will host 9 billion people. To accommodate this number, current food production will need to almost double… To meet the food and nutrition challenges of today – there are nearly 1 billion chronically hungry people worldwide – and tomorrow, what we eat and how we produce it needs to be re-evaluated.”
Edible insects, which have been part of human diets for centuries, are championed as the solution to help alleviate this impending food crisis. Insects are a highly nutritious and healthy food source with high fat, protein, vitamin, fibre and mineral content. For example, the composition of unsaturated omega-3 and six fatty acids in mealworms are comparable with that in fish. Insects are also better for the environment: they emit considerably fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than most livestock, ammonia emissions associated with insect rearing are far lower than those linked to conventional livestock, and because they are cold-blooded, insects are very efficient at converting feed into protein.
The practice of eating insects is known as entomophagy, and it is heavily influenced by cultural and religious practices. While insects are commonly consumed as a food source around the world – cicadas are treasured in Malawi, yellow jacket wasp larvae are popular in Japan and weaver ants are devoured in Thailand – in most Western countries people view entomophagy with disgust. It is difficult to disassociate insects from that ‘yuk factor’ (dirt, decay and disease) or simply primitive behaviour. The topic of entomophagy however has recently started to capture more public attention worldwide, particularly with respect to crickets.
More than 25 start-ups specializing in crickets have launched since 2012. Some companies raise the bugs themselves, while the rest either sell cricket meal (a fine powder that resembles nut flour) or make food products out of it. Some favourites include cricket chips,cricket granola bars, cricket chocolates and cricket cookies.
The goal of these initiatives is to ease consumers into the idea of bug gastronomy. The wider mission is to introduce diners to delicious, under-used ingredients, expand food choice and encourage people to embrace the edible resources that surround them.
Can you tell us a bit about your education background and career journey to date?
I studied Psychology and Business at Warwick University, and was running my own business for most of the time ever since university. Because of my Psychology background I am super interested in the challenge of changing people’s perceptions of what is considered a normal food.
What attracted you to enter the food space?
I have always been interested in healthy foods, I am big into running and fitness in general, and have been doing cooking competitions for fun with friends for years. Launching a healthy food product is a complete dream of mine, and I have been buying raw energy barsfor years. Because I feel that I am very much my target customer myself, it makes every step along the process more fun. This is important as the food business is not the easiest to break into.
How did you come up with the idea for Crobar?
I saw how the trend of using insects in food was starting in countries like the US, but even as close as Netherlands and Belgium. People were using different insects and making sweet as well as savoury foods, so I thought I would be the first in the UK to launch a healthy food product containing cricket flour. Cricket flour instead of whole insects, as I thought the Psychological barrier is smaller, and this is exactly what the last 6 months have proven correct.
How did you know there was a market for your product and how did you get the word out there?
I knew that the London health market is quite open-minded, people are up for trying new foods, the gluten-free market is growingsignificantly, and because insects have not only countless health benefits but also environmental benefits compared to conventional livestock farming, I thought the chances of it catching on are good if you educate people correctly. Regular social media use, on-going media interest and doing trade and consumer shows have all been very important to spread the word.
What are your thoughts on the rise of entomophagy? What other food enterprises or initiatives in this realm are inspiring you right now?
Every day new people contact me because they are either thinking of starting a cricket farm, launching a product, want to collaborate with me or simply offer their help and advice. It is amazing to be part of a grassroots movement where people are so passionate about something. I love Livin Farms desktop hive for farming your own mealworms, such a cool idea.
Where do you import the cricket flour from and where are the products manufactured?
The cricket flour is organic and gluten-free, and imported from Entomofarms in Canada. We manufacture the products here in the UK.
Do you plan to experiment with other insect flours? If so, which ones?
Yes, for example mealworm flour at some point, but for the time being we will focus on cricket flour.
What has been the most challenging Crobar moment to date? How can we change consumer behaviour and thinking to get over that ‘eating-insects-is-disgusting’ mentality?
The lack of regulations has been the biggest factor, which has contributed to unease and stressful moments, as myself and other players didn’t know whether our business activities would become illegal. Luckily the European Parliament decided to include insects in food in the upcoming law review, which is great news. As stated earlier, educating people, explaining the health and sustainability benefits, and by using cricket flour instead of whole crickets, 95% of people are willing to taste, and most come back for more.
What does 2016 hold for Crobar?
Probably two more flavours of bars, and possibly one more food product, which is a surprise.
What would you like the last meal of your life to be?
A fragrant Thai curry with noodles of some sort, preferably served at a roadside stall by someone who only makes this particular dish.