In 2016, Nam Dang, a farmer hailing from a countryside in Vietnam, chanced upon a report, titled Edible Insects: A Solution for Food and Feed Security by United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The report documented how cricket, an insect, could play a key role in addressing food security, climate change and rural development as an efficient and environmentally-friendly food source.
“I was stunned by one finding of the report that to produce one kilogram of crickets, only two litres of water is required, whereas to make a single pound of beef, it costs about 10,000 litres of water,” says Dang.
Himself a farmer, he knew the importance of saving water, and he used water from a well to irrigate his crops.
“Back in the 2000s, a ten meter-deep well could provide enough water for a hectare of agriculture. But nowadays, even we drill down 100 metres below the surface, finding water is hard,” he adds.
When he learned that a tropical country like Vietnam would be suitable for farming crickets, he decided to try his luck.
And Cricket One (C1) was born.
Established in 2017 by Dang and Bicky Nguyen and located in Binh Phuoc Province, C1 is a startup that cultivates and processes cricket, which is rich in protein and minerals, as an alternative source of food.
Cricket eggs hatch after a 7-day incubation period. From hatching to harvesting, it takes a total of 32-35 days. The company then processes crickets into products such as protein powder, high omega oil, soluble protein and meat analogue products and food ingredients.
Artificial Intelligence plays a vital role in the production and processing of crickets. The tech is used to improve the yield and enhance the process, thereby rising the economic base of farmers and ensuring the productive use of agricultural lands.
Currently, C1 claims it processes more than 100 million crickets a month. Its signature product Cricket One — cricket powder consisting of 60-70 per cent protein and seven per cent fibre — is exported into many markets around the world.
The startup has shipped the product to over 15 countries, globally. Dang said its products are used by bakeries and chip manufacturers in the EU, the US and Asia.
Aligning with UN goals
C1 aims to achieve three key Social Development Goals of the UN — namely zero hunger, climate action and no poverty.
“We use crickets as a solution to address malnutrition and global food insecurity. As an efficient protein and mineral-rich food source, crickets have the potential to sustainably feed to the bottom of the pyramid of the society,” he shares.
When it comes to climate action, livestock production is responsible for the 45 per cent of the global land use, 23 per cent of the global freshwater usage and 25 per cent of the greenhouse gas emission.
Compared with the production of beef, pigs and chicken, crickets requires just a fraction of land, water and feed, and it produces little greenhouse gases.
“Another fact is that modern farming ignores smallholder farmers. With crickets farming, we believe this community has what it needs to build a sustainable competitive advantage. We help them build their capability and improve their livelihood through training, supporting, and buying from them,” elaborates Dang, who leads a 20-member team at C1, who works in farming technology, food-tech and production.
The market size
A report by Barclays Investment Bank finds that the global edible insect market will reach US$8 billion by 2030 with a 24 per cent CAGR.
As per another report by UBS, the alternative protein market grew to about US$5 billion in 2018. It expects the industry to grow exponentially to US$85 billion within the next decade.
While it holds massive potential, the alternative protein segment, however, is still in its early phase. In the edible insects market, Thailand, Canada and Europe are ahead.
The market has not progressed to a stage where there is fierce competition.
Adds Dang: “When one player makes some noise, the whole industry reaps the benefits. I guess what we all are trying to do is drive consumers to conscious consumption and educate about its health and environmental benefits.”
In the alternative protein segment, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have outstripped smaller players and have found a place for themselves around the world.
However, Dang feels that food production is a vast market where there is still more than enough room for new players. The concept of winner-take-all cannot apply here.
“So we never know whether we are competing with plant-based meat players. Nevertheless, we both promote environmentally-friendly food and have our own unique selling points,” Dang observes.
In his opinion, although edible insects have always been part of the human diet, there are certain prejudices and misconceptions in some parts of the world when it comes to its consumption.
“Our mission is to make this earth-friendly food part of our daily diets. When we built the roadmap for crickets to go mainstream, we thought it had to come in a familiar form — a meaty texture. We developed a meat analogue technology for this reason — to bring crickets to a wider audience. The burger patty is just one of them,” he shares.
COVID-19 has been a boon for many alternative protein companies. However, for Dang and team, the crisis has been a dampener; the pandemic hit his business in the initial months as logistics were disrupted, air freight cost went through the roof, and sea transport became almost standstill.
“Demand was also disrupted in some countries. However, in other countries, the demand was growing rapidly during the peak time. Since the start of Q4, we could sense everything is getting better.
In October last year, C1 received an undisclosed amount of funding in a round co-led by 500 Startups and Singapore-based Masik Enterprises. The startup has also secured another round of funding, which will be announced in the coming weeks.
What are your future plans? “Well, keep up with what we are doing, always find innovative ways to bring our crickets to consumers, be loyal to our social and environmental mission,” he concludes.
Image Credit: Cricket One
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