Consumers, entrepreneurs, and investors alike are realizing the potential for insects to provide a sustainable and alternative source of protein for humans.
While still consumed by the more forward-thinking and adventurous consumers out there, this week Exo, one of the leading brands of consumer products made from crickets, received an endorsement from two celebrity investors: US rapper Nas and endurance athlete Amelia Boone.
Exo’s $4 million Series A funding round comes just two weeks after a cricket farming company Tiny Farms also attracted some big names to its seed round including Mark Zuckerberg’s sister Arielle Zuckerberg.
The round was led by AccelFoods, an early-stage venture capital firm focused on food and beverage companies, with participation from existing investors Collaborative Fund, author, and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, and Start Garden. It follows a $1.6 million seed round in October 2014.
The funding will be used to increase Exo’s presence in the US retail market, scale its production, and expand its product line. Some of the challenges that founders Greg Sewitz and Gabi Lewis, who started the company as Brown University graduates, face include educating consumers on the benefits of eating insects. Mostly selling online, Exo has targeted consumers focused on health and wellness first as “most likely to get the idea, be less squeamish and be supportive”, said Sewitz. But the startup now wants to expand into other consumer bases, and into more stores.
“We will be bringing people onto the team with traditional food business and packaged food business experience to help us execute on the playbook for package food products, while continuing our online commerce strategy,” said Sewitz.
The main arguments for eating insect protein are around the efficiency of insect production compared to other sources such as animal meat; the United Nations has estimated insects to be around 20 times more efficient at transforming feed into protein than beef. But there are also nutritional benefits to consuming insects, according to Sewitz.
“Insects are the best quality protein you can get and contain all the amino acids you need, with lots of iron and vitamin B,” he said.
The company’s new investors are going to help endorse the product, with Boone likely to feature in Exo marketing materials. And what about Nas? “We aren’t expecting an insect-focused rap to come out just yet, but you never know!” said Sewitz.
Exo is one of about 20 insect-focused consumer brands on the market today, according to Sewitz; a number that has increased from under five when Exo launched in 2014. That’s a huge amount of growth in a short space of time, and with indications from both Exo and Tiny Farms that demand for their insects and insect products is more than they can deliver, it looks like insect foods will be making their way onto a supermarket shelf near you in no time.
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