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“Cricket farming has enormous potential for Thailand. The world is eager for sustainable protein sources, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, and our cricket powder made in Chiang Mai is a great opportunity for companies who want to jump into the sustainable food trend,” says Nicolas Bery, CEO of Cricket Lab.
Starting from zero, any research on cricket farming equals huge improvements Cricket Lab has received investment support from the Board of Investment of Thailand (BOI), and the team is focused on R&D, automation, and improving the efficiency of farming and processing of crickets into cricket powder.
This powder is used in various protein-rich food products such as protein bars and protein pasta. Cricket Lab sells their cricket powder to customers in countries around the world, including the USA, Europe and Australia. The founders of Cricket Lab have also created their own food brand, Sens, which operates in the European market and is particularly successful in the innovative German market.
The farming and operations of Cricket Lab have been awarded the highest safety and hygiene standards such as GAP, Thai FDA, GMP, HACCP, HALAL, and IFS, and their products are approved for human consumption.
Cricket consumption varies from culture to culture, as do the methods of preparation. For Thai people, insect consumption is a familiar thing, and they commonly boil, fry, or deep fry them. Researchers have found that crickets contain higher amounts of protein than some meats, and that cricket protein also contains omega-3 fatty acid, iron, calcium, vitamin B, and many amino acids that are commonly found in beef, chicken, and fish.
Vertical farming, environmental control, and the blue boxes
Crickets are farmed in blue boxes unique to Cricket Lab. Each box contains paper cartons to maximize the surface area for the over 10,000 crickets that will be crawling around. The boxes are vertically stacked in tailor-made racks, rising 6 metres high. “The focus of our farming R&D is to maximize our output of crickets per square meter,” explains Bery.
The room hums with the sound of millions of crickets, as well as the ventilators that automatically regulate the environment. “The setup of the blue boxes, as well as the light, temperature, humidity, ventilation, and how much and how often to feed and water… those are the key variables for our research,” says Bery. “Recently, we have achieved a 400%
increase in yield per square meter.” This square meter output is crucial to the price of cricket flour, because many of the expenses per box, such as human labour or utility costs, remain fixed regardless of the cricket population.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, insects can be fed agricultural byproducts that would normally go to waste, and crickets are perfect converters of low-value waste into high-value protein. “Our own cricket feed is crucial, so that the crickets can grow faster and bigger. The feed can come from organic byproducts, thus making the final price of the protein lower. A circular economy, in essence,” says Bery, explaining that this will be the research focus of the next investment round. Cricket Lab and Sens have so far raised 3 million Euros in investments to focus more on research and development, with the aim of reducing the costs of cricket flour to below that of other animal proteins on the market.
The already successful use of crickets in the Western world
Cricket Lab’s farmed crickets are ground and dried into a flour-like product and shipped overseas to the US, Europe, and elsewhere. Various food producers are using cricket flour in protein bars, crackers, bread, and pasta, and many startups, such as Exo in the US, or SENS in Europe, are successfully selling such products. Their path to consumers has been to “disguise” crickets in flour and focus on the nutritional and sustainable benefits. This approach has been proven to successfully overcome the “yuck factor”, at least with the more innovative segment of consumers. It remains to be seen if crickets, or other insects, will really catch on fully in the mainstream market.
The laboratory in Thailand, which doubles as a farm and factory, breeds two local species: Acheta Domestics, used to make the protein powder, and Gryllus Assimilis, which are made into a frozen product for consumption at a later time. Both these products from Cricket Lab can be consumed by humans, or by animals when used in pet food.
Cricket Lab uses a circular economy model, utilizing byproducts of agriculture to feed their crickets and produce protein, but also making use of the byproduct that is the cricket droppings, also known as “frass”. This byproduct has a high potential in the fertilizer market. Cricket Lab is currently working with MaeJo University to develop a new potent fertilizer for hydroponic agriculture and high-value agriculture that will be sold on the market in the coming months.
Entering the Thai Market
Cricket Lab forecasts that its future production capacity will increase, and it aims not only to penetrate into the raw material market of the food processing industry in Thailand, but also to introduce their sustainable food brand Sens to Thai and Asian consumers. Frozen crickets will be stocked on Makro shelves from July onwards, and the company has also been working with well-known food manufacturers to bring staple Asian products to the market with a touch of innovation. These staples, which are in development and will be distributed over Thailand and Asia, include a range of healthy and nutritive products such as rice crackers, bread loaf, noodles, meat substitutes such as healthy burger patties, baked foods, beverages, meal replacements, and healthy snacks. Sens products are scheduled to hit the market in the third quarter of 2020.
About Cricket Lab and Sens
Cricket Lab Ltd. (www.thecricketlab.com) is a startup company, and their cricket farm, located in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is the biggest in the world. Their mission is to make cricket protein cost-efficient for the food industry. The subsequent mainstream use in various food products will benefit the environment and also support animal welfare. Crickets have a high nutritional value, but compared to conventional livestock they consume only a fraction of the resources, and no antibiotics, which makes raising them more environmentally friendly than typical industrial meat production. For example: to produce around one kilo of protein crickets require 12 times less feed than cattle, and half as much feed as pigs or chickens. Beyond this, the transition to cricket farming will also mean an immense decrease in animal suffering worldwide.
About Nicolas Bery, Linkedin
Nicolas Bery is a co-founder of Cricket Lab. After Nicolas Bery came across the book “Edible Insects” published by FAO, UN, he has devoted himself to sustainable insect protein. After testing his hypothesis in a small-scale operation called EIF, he went on to co-found a large- scale project called Cricket Lab, and also developed the brand Sens together with co- founders Daniel Vach and Radek Husek. Their protein bars, pasta, and crackers are all sold on the European market.
Nicolas Bery is an avid advocate for a change of consciousness when it comes to protein consumption, and he is a regular guest speaker at various conferences, including the main insect conference, “Insects to Feed the World”, which was held in Wuhan, China, in 2018.