When Greg Sewitz was a 22-year-old Neuroscience major at Brown University, he had an “Ah-ha!” moment while listening to a guest speaker at a conference at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The orator spoke on the value of eating insects as a sustainable diet both for its nutritional value and for the impact on the environment.
What many people may not realize is that insects such as crickets have some key advantages over traditional food sources such as:
- Protein: A dry weight in healthy protein of 69%. Two common sources of protein people consume, sirloin steak and chicken, have a dry weight in protein of 29% and 31% respectively.
- Green House Gas Emissions: Crickets create 1/8th the methane gas that cattle do. Methane gas traps more 21x more warmth than CO2 emissions making it much more conducive to global warming. Consider also that the average cow produces 132 gallons of methane gas a day and the idea of sustainability starts showing its value.
Sewitz took his idea to his roommate Gabi Lewis, a 23-year-old philosophy major, and the two put their heads together and decided to come up with a cricket-based snack bar. The trouble was how to make it palatable. They initially ordered a box of crickets from an insect farmer who produces the bugs for cattle consumption and as bait for fisherman.
Through a combination of freezing, roasting, and high powered blending inside a Vitamixer, they were able to develop their own cricket flour so to speak. The flour had a brown texture and was suitable for mixing with eye appealing almonds, cacao bits, dates, and honey. It was a combination that would make Biblical figure John the Baptist proud (John subsisted on crickets and wild honey see Matthew 3:4 ).
The two young men fashioned their mixture into protein bars which they stored in the fridge. According to Sewitz, their other roommates would tear into the bars, but that was after a night of binge drinking. Nevertheless, the two young men believed there were onto something potentially big.
Making a Go of the Cricket-Based Protein Bars
After graduating college this past May, the two decided to make a go of their special recipe for protein bars and moved to New York City. They named their company “Exo” after the exoskeleton of their chief ingredient and pitched their business on Kickstarter with a one-month goal of cobbling together $20,000 of seed money. It took only three days to reach their goal of funding a health bar to promote the values of a sustainable diet.
In another twist of good fortune, they were able to meet up with the former head of R&D at the Fat Duck restaurant, an establishment known for its cutting edge non-traditional cuisine. The man’s name was Kyle Connaughton and it turns out he too has been interesting in dabbling in the field of sustainable diets for some time. He paired up with Exo and created recipes that would be both attractive to consumers and yet contain 10g of protein in every bar. In terms of crickets, each bar would contain the equivalent of 40 crickets which Exo estimates is roughly seven crickets per bite.
Poised for the Big Launch
Now, Exo is poised to launch in February selling its product both on the company website and in select stores. It will be interesting to see if Exo can land shelf space at Whole Foods or Trader Joes, but for now they’ll be found in Chapul and Bitty Foods in the USA. Anyone interested in taking a step into a sustainable diet can do so by preordering from the Exo website.
The types of bars being offered are the original mix with almonds and cacao, but also a cashew ginger and peanut butter & jelly bar. Exo is targeting protein conscious customers such as those who frequent cross-fitness venues and natural food stores. Yes, the bar consists mainly of crickets, but it still amounts to protein with a great taste.
One possible demographic not mentioned but possible is the evangelical crowd. Environmentalist have found an unlikely ally in evangelicals when they were able to pitch their agenda as being good stewards over the earth as taught in the Bible. Perhaps Exo can do the same pitching the obvious similarities in the content of their bar with the diet of New Testament figure John the Baptist. At the end of the day, it is about sales and marketing.