An Automated Cricket Farm Could Bring Bug-Based Food to the Masses
Cricket company Aspire has created a massive farm to raise crickets that will be used to make mainstream snacks. The hope is to provide a better source of protein, while also reducing the carbon and land footprint that stems from producing beef.
A Better Source of Protein
Crickets are a good source of protein, provided you can work up the courage to eat one. In order to offset the harmful effects that come with relying on beef, however, we need to turn to another source, and our best option may come from the insects that keep us up at night.
Cricket company Aspire has a plan to make this possible, and it doesn’t involve eating handfuls of bugs. Instead, the Austin, Texas-based company has plans to create a massive cricket farm, with its sole purpose to produce, feed, and harvest the insects to be turned into food people can eat.
The original farm saw human workers periodically feeding the crickets, but this proved to be inefficient and ineffective, since the people worked normal work hours during the way, while crickets are nocturnal. After a bit of number-crunching, and spending some time studying how crickets respond to mass reproduction, Aspire elected to incorporate a robotic system that would provide the ideal amount of food. Adjustments to the cricket’s diet were also made to create a better end product.
Supply vs. Demand
People just aren’t ready to eat crickets as long as they continue to resemble them, though— something Aspire learned when it offered whole, dry-roasted crickets at events.
“We wanted to gauge consumer readiness for consuming insects in this most confrontational fashion,” said Apsire CEO Mohammed Ashour to Fast Company. “Our hypothesis…was that [we’ve] still a long way to go, and the needle won’t have moved very dramatically from two years ago when our data showed that something like 70% of Americans aren’t ready.”
People were more open to trying cricket-based food when in the form of granola or other products, where the insect origin of the offerings were not so apparent.Demand for cricket snacks has only increased. Much to the surprise of Aspire, they currently can’t keep up with consumer and retailer demand. Their current robotic farm, which takes up 25,000 sq ft. of space, raises more than 22 million crickets in a month, but this isn’t enough. Fortunately, there are plans to expand the farm next year, starting with a 50,000 sq ft expansion, and followed by small additions until the farm is 250,000 square feet in size.
Putting a bigger emphasis on insect food will almost certainly cut down on the worryingly large carbon and land footprints of beef. Perhaps their growing popularity will one day lead to more people eating whole crickets, like many other parts of the world already do.
[graphic: (added late, not sure where to place) – cost comparison between conventional and cricket based protein powder, see: https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/0BzLubmIIzyBmc2dzNzQyNlF4a0E ]