Dispatches from IFT 2014

Cricket bars founder: ‘We launched a product without a supply chain in place to scale it’

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Since it was created in 2012, Chapul Inc. has been on a mission to integrate edible insects into Western diets, using its cricket energy bars as the vehicle. 

And while starting a food company with no supply chain in place might seem counter to common business theory, Salt Lake City-based Chapul is growing its retail distribution state by state as more consumers embrace the sustainable, protein-packed cricket.

The bars were deliberately formulated to make the introduction to edible insects as “gentle as possible”, Chapul’s founder Pat Crowley told FoodNavigator-USA during the recent IFT show in New Orleans. The crickets are baked at a low temperature and ground before being incorporated into the bar.  

“We’re addressing the reasons why we don’t eat insects here, which is cultural, psychological perception. So we’re trying to make it the easiest, gentlest step for people to try them for the first time and then hopefully start incorporating them into more of a mainstream diet.”

But why should mainstream consumers even care to incorporate insects into their diets? “The nutritional aspects stand alone,” Crowley noted. Not only are crickets a complete protein source, but they’re high in calcium, iron and vitamin B12—which is especially attractive for consumers who’ve abandoned traditional livestock from their diets, as they tend to fall short on B12.

But it’s not easy forging a new market, particularly one that hasn’t yet gained widespread cultural acceptance or established a robust supply chain. “Counter to a lot of business theory, we launched a product without a supply chain in place to actually scale it,” Crowley said. “But we’re a mission driven company; we’re trying to introduce it and eventually create a pull through demand to drive that side of it.”

Indeed, a growing number of farms are growing food-grade insects, and the industry is increasingly engaging in dialogues surrounding alternative protein sources. Plus, the manufacturer has just gained distribution in 84 Vitamin Cottage locations, where it’s jockeying for space in the highly competitive energy bar section.

But as always, Crowley remains optimistic. “We haven’t let the negative aspects of cultural perception bother us at all or divert our energy,” he said. “That’s been our approach, and it seems to be working because as we’ve found these early adopters they’re the ones building momentum talking about the benefits of incorporating it into their diets and seeing positive changes in their diets.”

Read more about Chapul and Crowley’s “blindly optimistic” approach to changing our food system.

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