Inside a new building in an industrial neighborhood near the airport in Austin, a robot is feeding millions of crickets, 24 hours a day. The facility–a 25,000-square-foot R&D center that opened this month for the startup Aspire–uses technology that the company plans to soon duplicate in a farm 10 times as large. It’s a scale that the startup thinks is necessary to begin to make cricket food mainstream in the United States.
Eating bugs–or at least products made from bugs–has been growing in popularity. For a few years, it’s been possible to buy cricket snacks such as protein bars made with cricket flour or cricket chips (like Chirps) at some grocery stores or online. But for insect food to fulfill its sustainable promise of supplying protein without the massive carbon and land footprint of beef, it will have to be much more widely available, and more affordable. Aspire believes its farms can make that possible.
Right now, “insect protein products sold in North America are a premium product,” says Mohammed Ashour, CEO of Aspire, which launched in 2013 after the founders–students at the time–won the $1 million Hult Prize for their business plan for edible insects. “It’s very expensive. A pound of cricket protein powder right now at wholesale sells for approximately $20. That’s not because of an artificial, significantly inflated gross margin–that’s simply because the cost of production is very high.” A pound of cricket powder includes between 4,200 and 4,800 crickets. While non-cricket protein powders vary in price, a pound of a cheap powder can wholesale for as little as $10… Read More