Insect nutrition niche pays dividends for B.C. startup

Vancouver’s Coast Protein finds growing market for nutritional bars made from crickets

Coast Protein manufactures peanut butter protein bars using flour made from ground crickets | Lamyai/Shutterstock

Here's a diversification idea for Richmond, Surrey and Fraser Valley farmers coping with a constrained land base.

Not enough room for free range chickens? Start a cricket ranch.

Just ask Chris Baird, co-founder of a startup called Coast Protein.

Since the small, four-person business began selling protein bars made from cricket meal in October, sales have doubled each month, Baird said.

“Our volume is quite small but it’s growing very quickly. We’re signing up new retailers every week.”

Coast Protein is among a handful of North American startups that have jumped on the cricket bandwagon.

While insects have long been a part of the diet in places like Asia and Africa, they have only recently begun to catch on in Europe and North America – driven by consumers who want protein in their diet but want to keep their environmental footprint small.

“Our message of sustainability and nutrition, we find, really resonates with millennials,” Baird said.

According to Global Market Insights, the global demand for insect food products is expected to grow to US$522 million by 2023.

Baird, who has a degree in marketing from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, and his partner, Dylan Jones, who has an MBA with a focus on sustainability, were looking for an idea for a new business when, late in 2015, they read a United Nations report on population growth and food security that promoted insects as a good protein source with a small environmental footprint.

“The primary benefit is the protein,” Baird said. “It’s a very high quantity of protein, and it’s an animal protein, which is a natural protein unlike whey protein, for example, which is a heavily treated byproduct of the milk and cheese creation process.”

Cricket meal also has more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, and is high in dietary fibre.

Baird said athletes are part of the company’s growing market, and even some vegetarians and vegans, who otherwise abjure animal protein, don’t mind eating products containing insect meal.

Environmentally, insects leave a very small environmental footprint and have a high feedconversion ratio. The crickets that Coast Protein sources from Ontario are raised on soy feed.

Compared with beef, chicken or even fish, it takes far less feed to produce a kilogram of insect protein. Part of the reason for that is that nothing is wasted – no bones, skin, feathers. The entire cricket is ground into flour.

Even more importantly, growing crickets take up very little space, use very little water and reach maturity in just five weeks.

Before launching their business, Baird and Jones enrolled in a business accelerator, Radius Slingshot, based at Simon Fraser University. They then raised start-up funds from friends and family, and started selling their product online in October 2016.

They have since begun selling their protein bars through a number of local retailers.

Coast Protein bars sell for $3.75 each and come in two flavours: peanut butter and chocolate sea salt.

The company sources cricket flour from Canada’s only cricket farm, Ontario’s Entomo Farms, and makes its bars in a commercial kitchen in New Westminster.

Entomo Farms is the only company in Canada raising crickets for human consumption. Baird thinks there are good prospects in B.C. for raising crickets. It’s something he and his partner are thinking about getting into, once they have expanded their business.

Coast Protein plans to launch a $30,000 Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign later this month to help it scale up and launch a second product: protein powders.