Earlier this week, we heard Jarrod’s views on how cricket farming might help with the California water crisis. Crickets are clearly a more sustainable protein resource than things like red meat or almonds. Today, Jarrod of Next Millennium Farms continues to share what might bring the price of cricket farming down and what the true nutritional value of crickets is:
Aly: I’m wondering if you can speak a bit more about farming practices. As insects grow in popularity, we are going to see more cricket farms emerge. Cricket farming practices are far more efficient than livestock farming from an environmental angle, but from a cost angle there is some room for improvement.
We have only been farming crickets for about 50 years – a blip on the timeline compared to livestock and agriculture.
“We have only been farming crickets for about 50 years – a blip on the timeline compared to livestock and agriculture. “
Jarrod: I 100% agree that with scale and efficiency, prices will come down. There are also other ways that price can come down, such as using pre-consumer waste, like finding grocery stores that sell off their bruised apples and bananas and getting those into the insect feed system.
These grocery stores actually pay companies to come remove this food waste. Our farms use very high-end – organic, non-GMO feed inputs – and if we supplement them with these fruits and vegetables we can turn part of a cost into a revenue stream. Also, we have some really amazing new designs in our 20,000 sqft farm that we are testing now that will reduce the cost of labor, which is a big cost in insect farming. In trying to lower prices, we have to be careful because you can’t really make healthy food cheap. Healthy food is healthy food. When you try to start cutting corners, it may not be as healthy of food.
We just got our amino acid profile testing back yesterday. We compared 100 grams of beef to 100 grams of insect protein – cricket flour in this case – and found twice as much of every essential amino acid in the cricket flour than in the beef. There is twenty-six times more B12 in cricket flour than there is in beef.
[Jarrod sent the results of nutrition tests performed on his cricket flour after the call.] The nutritional profile of cricket flour speaks for itself. Cricket flour is gluten free. Most of the cricket flour amino acid values are double or triple the RDA values and are significantly better than the steak or broccoli equivalents per 100 grams. 100 grams of cricket protein is 60% protein by volume, contains 26mcg B12 (Beef has 1-2 mcg), is high in iron, is high in calcium, has all 9 essential amino acids, has a perfect Omega 6:3 ratio of 3:1, is low in fat, and has contains chitin high in prebiotics.
The real question is what’s your value proposition? How do you justify the price? Our markups are reasonable – consistent with most other businesses in that space. You can look at the nutrition content and compare. We are going to pull together a report where we look at the nutrition content of 100 grams of cricket powder and we will use a scale to compare how much beef, fruits, and vegetables one will need to eat to obtain the same amount of protein, B12, iron, amino acids, calcium, omegas, vitamin A, etc… as in cricket flour. I guarantee you that the cricket flour will cost less than the bundle of other foods. When you actually compare the nutritional bang for your buck in 100g of cricket powder to other food, it’s not expensive… it’s cheap! If just seems expensive because most of the media has compared it to flour.
“When you actually compare the nutritional bang for your buck in 100g of cricket powder to other food, it’s not expensive… it’s cheap!”
Everyone is just emphasizing the protein benefits and forgetting about all of the other nutrients in the cricket flour. Cricket flour is also full of prebiotics, and prebiotics feed probiotics. [While probiotics have been shown effective in managing certain gastrointestinal conditions, they do not have the same power prebiotics do.] The rage is all about probiotics now in yogurts and such because we are finally understanding the gut biome and how important it is… and how probiotics impact obesity and diabetes. It so happens that the chitin – the exoskeleton of the cricket – is chalk full of prebiotics.
So yes, the cost can come down. However, we need to do more education on the VALUE of certain food types and why there may be a premium. We also need to talk about concentration – if you are going to mix insect flour in a salad dressing, or pasta sauce, or in a smoothie, you don’t need so much to have an impact on the quality of the food. Pasta for example, is mainly a carbohydrate. If you add our product to the pasta mix you have a fortified, nutrient-dense meal with tremendous health benefits.
Aly: What do you think needs to happen with the farming practices themselves to reduce costs? What sort of research needs to be done and what sort of improvements do you expect to see in the farming itself?
Jarrod: I think primarily scale. Cricket farms are expensive to set up. 10,000 square feet can cost $100,000 dollars to set up. Those 10,000 square feet can produce maybe 5,000 kilograms a month or product. Our capital cost is paid off over time and then we just have our operating expenses.
Aly: I’m looking forward to following the farming industry to see where innovations emerge. Other livestock and agricultural industries have had thousands of years to get to where they are now. The cricket farming industry is an exciting place to be it seems.
Jarrod: Absolutely. And it’s fun! My brother Darren, the farmer, doesn’t stop. His first 5,000 sqft looked a certain way. The next 5,000 were different – we had new tools and molds done on bins. We spent over $50,000 innovating and changing the way our farming was done. As soon as those 10,000 sqft were finished we completely re-did everything as well. The next 20,000 sqft are near unrecognizable. Innovation is rapid.
It’s such a catch twenty-two – we have spent so much money. We raised a large sum in private equity financing a little while ago. We have some really awesome investors, and they gave us a great valuation on the company They gave us a much higher valuation that what our sales were, and this allowed us to put some real dollars behind innovation. The problem is that we are a business. Our business is to feed healthy food and impact the carbon footprint on the planet. But we get five to ten phone calls a week, ranging from kids that want to start an insect farm in their basement to pretty serious farmers who want to start insect farms all over the world. Some just say, “Hey, can I come over to your farm and learn all of your secrets?” And others ask, “Tell us how we can compensate you. What’s your model? Will you do a licensing model, or a franchise model? We are happy to pay you but we want to do the same thing you are doing and we want you to teach us.”
We, frankly, don’t know what to do right now. We don’t know if we want to be in the business of licensing and franchising our farms. I can tell you one thing – we are not going to give it away. We have spent way too much time, effort, and money developing what we have. This is not a purely altruistic exercise we are engaging in – we are working our asses off. If and when we get to the point that we don’t need the secrecy anymore, and I hope we do soon, we would be more than happy to help everyone else out. But this is the model – you borrow money, you have shareholders, you have some commitment to them. The only people we generally show the farm to are the media and companies that we do business with, like flavoring companies, that are not in the business of making farms.
It’s an interesting question because there is another company that says they have come up with the technology and their whole model is not to raise crickets but to sell “their faming model.” I’ve looked at what they have and I cannot believe that is practical.
Aly: Interesting… it sounds a bit like Willy Wonka and his mysterious chocolate factory.
We, frankly, don’t know what to do right now…If and when we get to the point that we don’t need the secrecy anymore, and I hope we do soon, we would be more than happy to help everyone else out.”
Jarrod: [Laughs] Well it is… there’s just a lot of chirping…and…well… a lot of crickets. But yeah, it’s exciting. And there seems to be such growing interest! Sadly, most of the interest is not surrounding the positive impacts this could have on the carbon footprint, but there is intrigue in crickets as the next Superfood. When you look at cricket powder as a malleable ingredient that can be introduced in salad dressing, cookie dough, pastas, chips, smoothies… there’s never been an ingredient like it! Such a nutrient-dense, rich ingredient that can be fortified into so many products that we already eat, and totally revolutionize those products from something not so healthy to incredibly healthy.
The subject of kids’ foods is of particular interest to me. We always struggle to feed kids healthy snacks – hardly any are without added sugars and carbs… it’s nasty.
Aly: I’ve also thought this could be a good fit for hospital food… we see so many issues with patients getting proper nutrition, which is sad, but I think this has a lot of potential as well.
Jarrod: Indeed. I want to go back to the farming, though. The only caveat we do have for our model is that if a poor country in Africa called us, or some small part of China or India, and the government was willing to work with us to teach the people there how to farm insects so that they could feed themselves, we would have no problem licensing or teaching those communities how to do what we do. I am not interested in making money from the poor. We are going to start a charitable arm of the business whose agenda will be to work with those types of communities to raise money or work with the governments locally. We would love to share this knowledge with them and empower them.
But in terms of the Western markets and selling to the Whole Foods of the world – that’s where we would like to put food on our tables and feed our own families.
Aly: Absolutely. I think a question a lot of people have is why AREN’T there more farms in Asia of Mexico …because it does seem like they are already ahead of the game… they are eating bugs.
Jarrod: Yeah, I think it is just an issue of industrialization. There certainly are farms – Thailand has thousands of farms and insects are eaten there. Often it is just a question of innovation or need… I don’t know. It’s a great question. I think even those communities want to eat like the West. I’m not sure why the idea of industrializing the farms in some of these other countries has not been a priority. But frankly, Aly, starving people have not been enough of a priority! I think that’s the bigger question. How can so many people die of hunger every year? When we can answer that question maybe we can figure out why there aren’t so many insect farms there…
“How can so many people die of hunger every year? When we can answer that question maybe we can figure out why there aren’t so many insect farms there…”
Aly: That’s horrible… [Pause] Well, I guess to end things on a light note – cricket farms are doing an incredible thing right now for public health and changing the way we think about food. That’s just one side of the equation. Next is public adoption. It’s almost a marketing issue. How do you see the general public, or people with independent blogs, or people who just think this is a cool movement … how would the average person get involved in spreading this change?
Jarrod: I think we are lucky in that the food system is so horrible. The timing is right because people are looking for transparency in the food they eat. People have learned not to trust the food they get. It’s scandalous, really, what these cattle farms look like…or what’s in a hot dog! Social media is chalk full of how to read a nutrition label and what some of the scarier ingredients actually mean. I believe people will learn about us through social media – crickets are transparent, without hormones or pesticides, and chalk full of nutrition. For us, the timing is perfect. People care about what they eat. In the 50’s or 60’s you couldn’t start an anti-smoking campaign because people did not know it was bad and people were not aware of it. Now smoking is frowned upon. Today, people are becoming aware of the impact food is having on their health and the environment, and that just sets it up perfectly for us. We have solutions. People are searching for that. If they search in the right place or read about us they will find an option. People can buy from incredible companies like Exo or Six Foods that are taking our powder and processing it into protein bars or chips and giving people the chance to consume our food in other formats. I think there is a concerted teamwork effort between wholesale brands like us and consumer facing brands and the media and other health bloggers and people interested in nutrition spreading the word.
THANK YOU Jarrod for your excellent interview 🙂