Burgers made with insect protein, and no meat. (photo from Eran Gronich)
While the thought of eating insects or worms may sound outlandish or disgusting to many of us, there is growing support for doing just that.
In less than 25 years, the world will have nine billion people living on it. As things stand, there is not enough space or resources to support conventional protein production – beef, chicken, fish, etc. – for that many people. One solution that has been brought to the fore is that we can start eating insect protein. And now, the Israeli company Flying Spark is raising capital to make this a reality.
Leading the charge is Eran Gronich, a serial entrepreneur, and his partner, entomologist Dr. Yoram Yerushalmi.
“When I was looking for my next project, looking into all kinds of ideas, start-ups, etc., I came across a TED Talk in which this university professor was talking about the world having nine billion people by 2040,” said Gronich. “He was talking about all the damages of livestock farming – causing global warming, [using] 70% of growing seed, oceans over-fished…. He was saying the best solution is switching to insect consumption … and, I don’t know why, but I was fascinated. I started to learn about it…. When I realized I don’t know anything about insects, I found my partner, Dr. Yerushalmi, and together we started Flying Spark.”
They chose the larva of fruit flies to work with because it has a number of benefits, such as high values of protein, iron, calcium and magnesium. Its fat is unsaturated and, unlike some other insects, a fruit fly has no cholesterol.
The fruit fly uses less than one percent of water and land resources, has hardly any waste and 100% of the larva can be used. The lifespan of the larva is only six days and it multiplies 15 times in that time.
As it’s a vegetation-eating fly, it is a safe insect to use. No antibiotics, hormones or additives are used in the growing process, and the insect does not share any diseases with human beings.
Gronich and Yerushalmi’s project was chosen as the winner of a mass accelerator challenge in Boston. “We spent four months in Boston working on accelerating the growth of the company,” said Gronich. “We raised some money there from investors and sent it to Israel. We developed the farming and ecosystem technology around farming the larva, reducing the cost.
“In the food lab, we developed the process that’s basically taking the larva and turning it into high-quality, 70% protein powder and high-quality oil. Also, we worked on all kinds of applications and the functionality of the protein powder. We made all kinds of products just to prove the point that you can make almost anything out of our materials – bread, pasta, cereal, cakes, whatever. And, also, achieve meat replacement, even milk, with more protein than cows.”
As it turns out, the larvae will be fed by fruit surpluses, which, according to Gronich, exist everywhere. “They are in every country and also throughout the supply chain – surplus that the farmer or grocery chain has,” he said. “It’s good food, but doesn’t look so good anymore. So, we developed this formula – based on feeding software – to calculate the right percentage … to get the nutritional diet needed.”
Gronich is working with several major food manufacturers, trying out various applications, with varying degrees of success.
According to Gronich, the product is not kosher and his market is not yet in Israel, though he does have some Israeli and Jewish backers. One of his backers is the Strauss Group, which invested money and provides support with offices, labs and a lot of technical support for marketing and networking with institutions worldwide.
“For Strauss, it’s a financial investment,” said Gronich. “Strauss believes insects will be a part of the human diet in the near future and decided to invest in the best company.”
Another important collaboration in which Flying Spark is involved is with IKEA. “IKEA, eight months ago, [invited] all kinds of start-ups to apply for special programs focused on making the world a better place, especially sustainability aspects. Thirteen hundred companies applied from about 80 countries around the world; they chose 10. We were lucky enough to be one of those 10 companies. So, we started a three-month program. My partner is in Sweden right now, in the IKEA centre, and the goal of the program in the end is to have a product made from our material in the IKEA restaurant.”
Gronich is currently working on designing Flying Spark’s first production facility in Israel, with operations scheduled for the end of 2018. “Now, we are raising three and a half million dollars to build the facility, which will be in Ashdod,” said Gronich.
While selling the product to the Western world is a bit tricky, in the Eastern world or in South America, insects are eaten regularly. So, heading east with their product is an obvious choice.
As for the West, Gronich said, “Now, people from Western countries … when I’m explaining to them about the larva – about how it cleans itself and its nutritional value – people understand it. They get that it is one of the best sources of protein. If you’re comparing it to shrimp or other kinds of seafood, it looks much better. It definitely looks much better than a dead chicken. And millennials are very much aware of what they put into their bodies, and aspects of food and farming, so it’s easier.”
Flying Spark was very happy with their positive reception in Boston. There, more than 85% of millennials told them they had no problem tasting it. And, when they gave people samples, the reaction was positive.
“Now, we’re working with companies that have heard about us through PR,” said Gronich. “Multinational companies approached us and the conversations with them have all been focused on nutritional value – source of the protein, they don’t care about it…. We call it the industrial approach. We’re not serving the insect in its original form. We’re turning it into a white powder and are selling it to regular, traditional food manufacturers – and there is a need for this product.”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.