How do you feel about eating creepy crawlies? Three young American women launched a successful business encouraging people to crunch… crickets. But their “Chirps”, which are tortilla chips made out of cricket flour, aren’t just novel. They also have a low environmental footprint and these entrepreneurs say they could help fight food insecurity.
By 2050, the world will likely be home to nearly 9 billion people, according to the UN, which means that there will have to be a huge increase in food production. Some experts have suggested that the answer could be to start eating highly nutritious insects, which are high in protein, fats and minerals. They produce fewer greenhouse gases and ammonia than livestock and require much less water and land to raise.
But while an estimated 2 billion people in the world are already eating insects, many people living in Europe and Northern America find the idea of eating bugs… well, gross.
Three young entrepreneurs who met while studying at Harvard are hoping to change that, one chip at a time.
“We liked the idea of changing the system”
Meryl Natow co-founded Six Foods with friends Laura D’Asaro and Rose Wang, who were all part of Harvard’s 2013 graduating class.
I founded the company with two friends right after we graduated from college in 2013. We were looking for ideas to start a business. Laura came across a UN report that was about the growing global population and our protein sources, which are unsustainable. The report suggested eating insects. She thought it was awesome!
We got on board immediately because we liked the idea of making something that could help shift the system of how we eat. We also liked the environmental benefits: as we are a California-based company, we are very aware of water usage. It takes 2,000 gallons of water to raise a pound of beef. Yet it takes one gallon of water to produce a pound of cricket. Plus, in a 200-calorie serving of cricket, there are only eight grams of fat while in a 200-calorie serving of beef, there are 15g.
While a lot of people were talking about the merits of eating bugs at the time, no one had an actual product. So that’s what we decided to do with the company we founded - Six Foods-- because six legs are better than four!
“There was only one time when we were squeamish”
To find a product, we had to experiment with recipes using insects. None of us has a degree in the culinary arts, so we got in a chef in to help us with recipes.
The three of us had all eaten insects before, so it wasn’t an entirely new thing to us. And chips are a familiar, accessible food so we thought people would be more open to tasting chips made with crickets.
“We’ve started selling at Disney World”
We used Kickstarter to launch. We launched our campaign on Earth Day in 2014. We got 1,295 backers-- which proved to us that it wasn’t just our families contributing. We raised over $70,599. Since then, we’ve won several grants and awards [Editor’s notes: Including the 2014 Grand Prize in the Dean’s Design Challenge at the Harvard Innovation Lab].
The chips are produced in a factory in Eureka, California.
We have a facility in Eureka, California. We distribute throughout the USA. We source our crickets from farms in the US and Canada. From the beginning, we decided that we wanted to target kids because they’ll have a greater impact. It is part of why our branding is fun and youthful. We sell at quite a few health food stores. We’ve also started selling at Disney World, at aquariums and at museums.
A young fan samples Chirps. (Photo from the Chirps Chips Instagram)
“I eat something with cricket every day”
Our idea was to make a food that you could incorporate into your daily routine, not just a novelty item. I practice what I preach: I eat something with crickets everyday. I’m hopeful because I see the people around me are open to change. More and more companies producing stuff made from insects: I’ve seen protein bars and even alcohol bitters. And more people are conscious about the origins of their food.
Meryl likes to cook with cricket flour. She used crushed up Chirps to make this breading. (Photo from the Chirps Chips Instagram)