Next time you’re at the grocery store gathering ingredients for a smoothie, consider picking up a bag of cricket powder to add into the mix. Really.
Humans have been eating insects for thousands of years, currently forming a portion of traditional diets for at least 2 billion people across the globe. With ethical and environmental concerns driving consumer demand for alternative sources of protein to an all-time high, companies are exploring how to introduce insect protein into the mainstream.
For Ryan and Darren Golden, their personal catalyst was the release of a blockbuster 2013 report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization titled Edible Insects: Future prospects for food and feed security. In a world with a growing population and scarce resources, the ability to produce insect protein with less land, feed and water compared to traditional meat proteins “contributes positively to the environment and to (human) health and livelihoods,” according to the report. Insects can provide plenty of protein and useful minerals, all with fewer calories and using less resources than traditional sources of protein.
Having spent the past 10 years farming insects and rodents as feed for animals and fish, Ryan and Darren quickly pivoted into developing a full-time operation growing crickets for humans. Another brother, Jarrod, was soon brought into the fold as well.
The company, Entomo Farms, now operates the largest insect farm for human consumption in North America out of a 60,000 square-foot insect production facility in Norwood, Ontario. The company raises millions of crickets at a time inside three separate facilities heated to around 30 degrees celsius, with a new crop harvested every six weeks.
Their most popular product to date has been cricket protein powders, which can be incorporated into everything from protein bars and smoothies to baking mixes (adding in a subtle nutty taste). While they are currently shipping products to over 50 food companies internationally, their biggest breakthrough came in 2018 when Loblaw began stocking Entomo Farms cricket powder on their grocery shelves.
Another major boost for Entomo Farms has emerged through a minority venture investment by Mississauga-based consumer packaged meats company Maple Leaf Foods. Known best for its high-quality meats, Maple Leaf has nonetheless directed 40% of its investments over the past two years towards acquiring promising alternative protein companies in North America as part of a broader sustainability push.
Entomo Farms has also provided international support for efforts to combat malnutrition in Madagascar. Beginning in May 2019, cricket powder has been added to school dinners at local schools through the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) school feeding programme. By adding the protein, vitamin and mineral-rich powder into local meals, the CSR hopes to both improve health outcomes and reduce the local hunting of endangered species such as lemurs.
The crickets themselves? Raised by locals – following protocols developed by Entomo Farms.
For the Goldens, their ultimate goal is to build the largest insect protein supplier in the world right here in Ontario, where they will make a significant contribution to environmental sustainability and food security while running a successful business. And they’ve got a whole selection of recipes on their website if you’d like to give the idea a try.