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Cricket protein: Food source of the future

Bicky Nguyen, co-founder of CricketOne, wants to change perceptions of cricket food items from yuck to yum.

With climate change having an increasing impact on food production in Asia, Vietnam’s CricketOne says cricket protein is a more sustainable way to feed the world.

You may have sampled the odd roasted grub, bug or cricket while eating out in Asian countries or attending a wild foods festival. They are packed with amino acids, high in protein, and are increasingly seen as an answer to global food security problems.

But the future of food is not necessarily about whole skewered, crunchy insects. According to Vietnamese entrepreneur Bicky Nguyen, the game-changer will be six-legged protein finding its way into everyday food products.

Bicky and her CricketOne business partner Nam Dang breed crickets in integrated 40-foot shipping containers to allow year-round farming. They then lease these to local farmers and train them in best practice and technology use, boosting their incomes.

“We don’t want people to see eating insects as a weird thing, or to serve insects as a rare snack. We want to make it part of a daily diet.”

CricketOne supplies its cricket protein powder to food, nutrition and pharmaceutical producers in Europe, the United States and Australia – and demand is outstripping supply.

“We don’t want people to see eating insects as a weird thing, or to serve insects as a rare snack. We want to make it part of a daily diet.

“We find that trying to sell the whole cricket is very difficult because of the yuck factor.”

Bicky visited New Zealand in June as part of the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative, run by the Asia New Zealand Foundation for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Bicky and Nam Dang started looking into the cricket farming after coming across a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) report about insects as alternative proteins.

Bicky Nguyen, CricketOne, Vietnam

Cricket farming consumes vastly less feed, land and water compared to beef, says Bicky Nguyen, shown talking to Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor at Fieldays.

She started looking at the international market.

“We saw a lot coming out of Canada, North America, Europe. We believe we can do better because of our natural climate conditions and our background in consuming insects. So we jumped into it.”

Insect farming is increasingly seen as a sustainable alternative to more conventional livestock. CricketOne points out that cricket farming consumes vastly less feed, land and water compared to beef.

But Bicky wanted to go one step further than other players in the market. While other companies fed crickets commercial chicken feed and mixed grains, CricketOne experimented with agricultural by-products.

“We ended up with cassava leftovers because we have a lot in Vietnam. The farmers, with their current practice, burn them all. This puts 50 million tonnes of CO2 into the environment every year. And it’s a waste because there’s still a lot of nutrition in it.”

Because cassava naturally contains cyanide compounds, CricketOne also carries out cassava removal before feeding it to the crickets.

“With climate change and limited land resources, we need to find a more sustainable way to feed the world. We believe insects is the key answer to that.”

CricketOne is in the process of scaling up from 15 tonnes of capacity to 45 tonnes. “With our new facility, I believe we can directly compete with traditional but high-end animal protein, like beef or seafood.”

The new facility will allow the company to meet current demand but also commercialise new products, such as soluble cricket protein that can be added to energy drinks, yoghurt and other products.

New European Union regulations for novel foods – including insects  came into force this year, meaning food standards will be consistent across that market. “That’s going to be a game-changer for us.”

Cosmetics are another emerging area, with cricket oil able to be used as a replacement for palm oil. 

Big multinationals are watching the insect protein market, she says, but nobody is sure of the optimal form of production yet. Vietnam is at an advantage in that respect, because experimentation is cheap.

While in New Zealand, Bicky compared notes with Bex De Prospo and Peter Randrup of Kiwi company Anteater, which supplies insects to New Zealand restaurants.

She was also interested to see cricket flour openly advertised on loaves of paleo bread, even though the cricket ingredient percentage was low – a sign, she says, that the “yuck factor” can be overcome.

Bicky Nguyen, CricketOne, Vietnam

Bicky Nguyen was pleasantly surprised to see bread with cricket flour being openly sold in New Zealand.

“New Zealand is considered an early adopter for any new product. You have very high awareness about sustainability, wellbeing, and health issues.”

In contrast, Vietnamese are not early adopters, and public awareness of sustainability is low.

“If we see European people consume such a product, then we start to adapt. So I would rather go to the market first and then use the influencer model to target to our own local people.”

Bicky was also interested to talk to New Zealand farmers and government agencies about managing the balance between sustainability and cost.

“Everything comes with a cost. It costs more to produce in a sustainable way, and you might have a couple of years of setback to fight climate change. The easiest ways for farming are the most harmful way for Mother Earth. There’s always a setback time.”

This is a particular challenge in keeping sustainable products affordable for consumers in Asian economies, including Vietnam, she says.

“To make a sustainable world, we have to try to bring the price not lower, but not significantly different from the current, existing products.

“That’s our goal for CricketOne in the next few years. We need to make it more popular, and more affordable, and more accessible.

“If you look at the current situation, we have to feed 9.5 billion people by 2050.

“With climate change and limited land resources, we need to find a more sustainable way to feed the world. We believe insects is the key answer to that.”

– Asia Media Centre


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