For Bay Area techies attuned to the latest trends, kale is no longer cutting it and quinoa is passe. Instead, many are opting for a six-legged snack. In start-up offices around the region, people are munching on crickets.
Proponents say the tiny chirping bugs are high in protein and iron and can serve as a sustainable alternative to beef or chicken. It’s a movement that has people buzzing, with such companies as San Francisco-based Bitty Foods baking the bugs into cookies and chips, Tiny Farms in San Leandro, Calif., breeding crickets for mass consumption, and New York-based Exo using them in protein bars.
“I would say there’s a new company that launches every six months, maybe even more frequently than that,” said Exo co-founder Greg Sewitz.
Eating insects is nothing new. But companies trying to market them in the United States must confront the squeamishness most Westerners feel about bugs.
“The very first time I had crickets, it was a little bit weird,” said Bridget Sauer, who works in the San Francisco office of Teespring, an online custom T-shirt-making platform. Sauer, a triathlete, now is hooked on peanut-butter-and-jelly-flavored Exo bars.
Companies like Exo and Bitty are part of a larger trend of food start-ups that are replacing meat, gluten and dairy in everyday products. Investors have poured more than $500 million into companies such as plant-based imitation meat-maker Impossible Foods and meal replacement Soylent, according to venture capital database CB Insights.
“Edible insects are one of the most sustainable forms of protein on the planet,” said Megan Miller, co-founder of start-up Bitty Foods.
Whether the insects can be used as a more environmentally friendly alternative to meats will depend on how they are farmed and what they are fed.
A report published last year by researchers with the University of California, Davis, found that more study is needed to evaluate the long-term potential of bugs as protein and concluded that “the potential for crickets to supplement the global supply of dietary protein appears to be more limited than has been recently suggested.”