How are we going to feed 9 billion people by 2050 without making the planet a barren land? Start-ups and companies in the food-tech and ag-tech industry are already offering a long catalogue of possible solutions: plant-based proteins, lab-cultured meat, making indoor farming and traditional proteins more efficient, or simply eating more pulses. And of course, there’s also eating insects, which is something quite normal in many countries across Asia and Africa, but still very foreign to our Western palates.
Grub is a London-based start-up that produces and sells bars, snacks and ingredients made with worms, crickets and grasshoppers. Its mission is to make the experience of eating insects as normal as eating a chicken breast, only much tastier.
Here’s our interview with Grub’s co-founder Neil Whippey.
Why insects, and why London?
The idea was born in 2013. Back then, there was already a lot of talk in the media about future protein sources and how we’re going to cope with population growth by 2050. When my business partner Shami came back from a business trip in Malawi, where insects are eaten both as a delicacy and a staple, we decided to give the idea a try, and London seemed the perfect place to start due to it’s adventurous nature.
How did it all start?
To probe the market a little bit, we organised a tasting event in a pop-up restaurant. We were lucky to find a really talented young chef called Seb Holmes, who developed a seven-course tasting menu for us. Also, as we were doing Thai insect food, we approached premium Thai beer brand Chang Beer. Fortunately, they loved what we were doing and put us in touch with their PR agency, Storm. It was a great way to kick things off as it gave us instant credibility.
The event was a success: lots of people came, and from the feedback we got, they really enjoyed themselves and, most of all, they enjoyed the food. That’s what gave us the confidence to go on.
From there, we started selling our ingredients online and in Planet Organic supermarkets. What we quickly realised though, was that long term we wouldn’t have a real business out of just selling ingredients right now. We had to create an intermediate point for people to access the idea. That’s how we added energy bars and snacks to our shop. The next upcoming launch will be for our cricket powder.
(Grub will be re-launching those initial pop-up restaurants at the end of May. You can see more here – http://www.eatgrub.co.uk/events/eat-grub-san-daniele-28th-may/)
What made that tasting event a success?
Two things: people were in the right setting for a new idea and the food was tasty. Someone could cook a tasteless chicken breast with nothing on it and put it on someone’s plate with chips, salad and some sauce, and that would be seen as acceptable. But if you put insects on a plate and offer if to people, both presentation and taste must be excellent. Standards have to be higher with insects as the idea is so new.
Where do you source the ingredients?
We use crickets and insects farmed in the Netherlands. Our aspiration in the long term is to produce them in our own farming facility, because that’s the most sustainable thing to do. But the reality is, we have to outsource our ingredients like many other food producers. There are not many options at the moment, and that’s also partly because legislation in the EU is not consistent from country to country.
Talking about regulations, what’s the current situation?
In the UK, Holland and Belgium it’s tolerated. In other countries like France and Sweden, it’s not. I think Switzerland has been sensible with regard to this idea: they legalized four species, as long as they’re farmed and produced according to correct food standards. So it’s a little messy from country to country, but with light at the end of the tunnel and things moving in the right direction.
What type of markets are you targeting?
First of all, the meat snacking sector. It’s one of the fastest growing snack markets.
Then we have sports nutrition. You’re not going to get the cricket version of a Mars bar, maybe ever (which is a good thing), but we’re already working with endurance athletes like ultramarathon runners, cyclists, and trail runners. It’s a huge part of the market that has their eye on sustainability and nature, and if you can provide a product with a great taste and the feeling of actually making a good contribution to the planet, or at least having the right ideas behind that, insects become a very attractive proposition.
How do you see the insects market ten years from now?
I think It’s going to be completely mainstream, with no more worries about legislation. The sector will be a huge opportunity for start-ups not just in the food business, but also in the food-tech arena in terms of specialised insect production. We’re seeing a lot of interest in our products, so we hope all that will happen much sooner than ten years.
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