Edible insect snacks: Crackers with a protein punch
Small Giants and Bbite Foods hit the UK market in September, promoting cricket flour as a nutritious planet-positive source of protein without the ‘yuck factor’. NutritionInvestor finds out how they do it
Protein is a sought-after macronutrient and its popularity among consumers stems from its role in improving lean body mass and reducing hunger between meals – a notion that created the hype around high-protein content in food and drink products. But not all proteins are equal in the eyes of shoppers – quality, taste and sustainable production are paramount, and yet difficult to come by without compromises. Small Giants and Bbite Foods are two challenger brands in the UK snacks market that claim to have achieved the three requirements by using edible insects in powder form, thereby eliminating the ‘yuck factor’. NutritionInvestor speaks with its founders to find out more.
“Cricket flour is the best way for consumers to try edible insects for the first time while benefitting from their nutritional and planet-positive impact,” says Francesco Majno, co-founder of cracker snacks brand Small Giants.
“When we first started, bugs were not newsworthy at all,” he adds. “The only edible insects available were whole dried insects – not very appealing. We decided to tackle the ‘yuck factor’ by giving edible insects a familiar form – flour.”
The brand is not new to the UK consumer – it was launched last year as Crické, and Majno claims it attracted thousands of consumers, building a community of fans and enthusiasts for the products. In September, after raising a £150,000 investment, Majno and his team unveiled the new brand identity and product line.
Small Giants crackers are snacks made with 15% cricket flour. The crackers are oven-baked and products are available in three flavours: tomato & oregano, turmeric & smoked paprika, and rosemary & thyme.
Served in 40-gram pouches, the nutritional information for 100 grams proves the product packs a punch:
- Energy: 423 kcal
- Fat: 8.6 g (of which saturates: 1.5g)
- Carbohydrate: 62.6 g (of which sugars: 2.5 g)
- Fibre: 4.5 g
- Protein: 21.6 g
- Salt: 2.5 g
- Vitamin B12: 3.1µg (124%*) *of the Nutrient Reference Values
Majno says the B12 content comes directly from the cricket flour. “The cricket flour is also high in minerals potassium and iron – over twice as much iron than spinach. And a source of omega-3 fatty acids.”
A question of innovation
Majno argues that despite the massive growth of the savoury snacks category, there’s a gap in the market for high-protein products with a strong focus on innovation.
“Apart from roasted peas or nuts, all other products [in the snacks space] have less than 15% protein,” he says. “Cross-product innovation between potato chips and biscuits is one of the most important drivers of growth in the UK and in continental Europe. Nevertheless, there has been no or very little innovation in the last 10 years.”
Bbite Foods’ co-founder Alejandro Ortega concurs and explains the brand wants to enter the UK market to provide a healthy and sustainable twist to products that are usually associated with indulgence by using the nutritional prowess of cricket flour.
“Our focus is on the food ingredient,” says Ortega. “We not only produce snacks with cricket flour but want to collaborate with other food start-ups and food corporations to create new and innovative foods using ready-made mixes tailored to the requirement of food manufacturers.”
Bbite produces brownies, crackers, and pancake and cake mixes using high-protein cricket flour made with insects farmed in Costa Rica.
Products are manufactured in partnership with UK cake manufacturer Perfection Foods, a company with more than 20 years in the market. “Cricket pasta and protein extracts are in the pipeline,” reveals Ortega.
Edible insects snacks: A sustainable protein source
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that edible insects are part of the regular diet of roughly two billion people globally. “Edible insects have long been a part of many countries’ traditional cuisine, such as Thailand,” says Majno, noting Small Giants gets its cricket flour from there.
“There are 20,000 insect farmers in Thailand,” he adds. Majno also explains that crickets are farmed for human consumption by small family-owned businesses. “Crickets need a high temperature to thrive (ideally 30°C), and Thailand’s climate provides the ideal conditions.”
Majno argues that recent studies have shown that the carbon footprint of bringing the cricket flour to the UK is lower compared with European sources. “We source our cricket powder from a British professional supplier, which is the only BRC-certified cricket powder supplier worldwide,” he claims.
And there’s more. Majno reports that sourcing cricket flour is easier than it was a couple of years ago. “When we started there were only a few suppliers in the market. Now we receive at least two emails every week from new farmers in Europe,” he says. “For example, Ÿnsect has just raised $372 million for carbon negative, vertical insect farming in France.”
Bbite’s own production in Costa Rica is an advantage. But how does it work? Ortega says the company developed a partner programme with local insect farmers, establishing a steady and fair-trade supply of insects to produce the powder. “Our sister company, Costa Rica Insect, provides training and supervision to women and families in rural areas to help them set up the insect farms,” he adds.
Bbite is currently working with two pilot farms, and the programme is scheduled to engage 50 family-owned cricket farms by the end of the year. Here, Ortega says, is where the start-up’s social impact takes shape. “Each insect farm generates $1,000 a month to each family, adding to their overall income and quality of life.”
Bbite’s initiative is supported by the local agriculture cooperative, as well as the UNED university and San Jose Impact hub. Ortega claims their backing allows the company to guarantee quality control, monitor the carbon footprint, and scale-up production.
Turning crickets into flour requires a straightforward process. Ortega explains: “Production starts with the farming of the insects – it takes five weeks to get each breed ready to harvest.” The insects are then turned into powder at Bbite’s sister company’s processing plant. “This process includes disinfection, cooking, roasting and finally grinding,” he adds. The powder is then packed and shipped to the UK.
In the UK, Bbite blends the raw material with upcycled ingredients from local food companies, leading to the final product – cricket flour mixes.
Majno believes the upcoming decade is expected to witness an unprecedented transition from traditional meat-based proteins to a wider range of alternative protein, and insects are among the most promising sources of the macronutrient. “This is a global trend so it makes sense to think ‘giant’.”
He says Small Giants was rebranded with a strategic mindset so that it can disrupt the savoury snack category at the European level and potentially also overseas. “We started baking crackers with cricket flour in our own kitchen in Milan,” says Majno. “We sourced the cricket powder online and learned by trial and error.”
The recipe was then fine-tuned by two chefs, Stefano Gamba and Marco Parrinello, and tested by early-adopters. Then, Small Giants collaborated with food technologist Laura Swanfood and chef Paola Carlini from food consultancy Taste Collaborative. They produced the first product range, which was manufactured in small batches in Cornwall.
Today, Small Giants crackers are made by a large-scale manufacturer in the Netherlands, utilising a recipe that was perfected by food technologist Riccardo Bottiroli.
Majno says product launches across Europe are in the works, including soft launches in Germany and the Nordic countries. “The UK, Germany, the Benelux and Scandinavian countries are markets that show the highest acceptance for insects as food,” he says, adding the savoury snacks category in these countries is growing rapidly, driven by the cross-product innovation between potato chips and biscuits. “Exactly where we want to position ourselves.”
He is bullish on the market potential of Small Giants, and says 2021 will see the brand introduce two new insect-based snacks, tapping into the chips space. “The high-protein content and the fact that they are oven-baked and naturally gluten-free will be distinctive features of these products.”
Bbite, however, has a long way to go. The start-up launched a £15,000 crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo last month – at the time of writing, there were seven backers and £182 in the pot. Ortega argues the Indiegogo campaign is giving Bbite a great deal of consumer feedback, which the start-up will use to gear up for the launch in retail stores.
“We are raising capital in the UK from venture capital firms and angel investors. Our current seed round is for £250,000,” says Ortega. “We are looking for investors who are aligned with the impact and the vision of our brand, and that have the experience and network to help us grow exponentially.”
The market for edible insects in Europe is in its infancy, with many people still to be convinced insect-based protein is worth trying. Can brands like Small Giants and Bbite turn their sights on cricket flour? Having tried samples of Small Giants, I say they can.