Scale and Automation… Aspire Food Group Prepares to Open World’s Largest Edible Cricket Processing Plant

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If crickets – which are extremely appealing from both a nutritional and sustainability standpoint – are going to carve out a significant niche in the alternative protein arena, two things need to happen before even starting a conversation about education. of consumers, said COO Gabe MOtt: Costs must come down and supplies of constant, high-quality raw materials must increase, both motivators Aspirenew factory.

“I would say we could see a price drop close to an order of magnitude [once the multi-million-dollar facility is up and running] although the production costs of any livestock operation are increasing right now, from the cost of steel to freight to animal feed, and we are all in a kind of hyperinflationary cycle, ” he told FoodNavigator-USA.

A chicken and egg situation …

Taking a step back he said, There has always been this problem of hens and eggs in the human food industry. No large CPG company will integrate bugs because the cost is too high and the supply chain is too unpredictable, and no one will invest in building a strong supply chain if no one buys it. .

“We were very fortunate to find some really important partners who were willing to commit to buying the majority of the operation’s production from Canada before we even started working. So most of it is for a pet food business, but it will also open up the human market. “

He added: “If you look at the companies that have failed to manufacture these human food products [using edible insects]There were a multitude of variables, but cost and unpredictable supply were the real challenge.

“If you go into retail, and all of a sudden you can’t fill the shelves anymore, they’re going to give that space to someone else and they’re not going to invite you again, so c is a precarious place to be for a CPG startup without a dedicated reliable supply chain. Once we’re up and running, we’ll be able to devote a set amount of our production to food innovation and entrepreneurs, and really help them bring the products to market.

The fundamentals of edible insects are solid, says Gabe Mott, COO of Aspire Food Group: Eating insects isn’t crazy. In fact, it’s not even unusual, if you take a more global perspective, he observes, given that more than 2 billion people eat insects in 80% of the world’s countries, from grasshoppers and ants to Mexico to fried locusts in Thailand, caterpillars in Africa and water bugs in China.

Cricket powder (whole crushed crickets) is a whole food ingredient low in fat but high in protein (60-70%), calcium, iron, omega-3 and vitamin B12.

Photo credit: GettyImages-sirichai-raksue

Agriculture and production are now the only focus after the sale of the EXPO brand

A pioneer in the field of edible insects in the United States, based in Austin, Texas AspireWas established in 2012 by five MBA students from McGill University with the aim of improving the efficiency of insect breeding. Six years later, she acquired the EXOA consumer brand, which manufactures cricket bars and powders rich in protein, which it recently sold to Hoppy Planet FoodsSo that it can concentrate 100% of its efforts on agriculture and production.

Today, much of Aspire’s production from its Texas plant is still under the EXO brand, but it also supplies wholesale amounts of cricket powder (finely ground whole crickets) to other companies in human food and pet food, as well as nutrient-rich crickets. droppings(Cricket droppings, lost exoskeletons, and food waste), which serves as an organic fertilizer, soil supplement, and plant protector.

“We want to offer crickets the healthiest and least stressful environment possible”

The Ontario plant – which received C $ 16.8 million in funding from Next Generation Manufacturing Canada – will be able to produce at least 200 times what Aspire currently manufactures in Texas, said Mott, who spent years of determining the optimal environment for producing crickets on a large scale, from temperature, humidity, diet, cleaning.

When it comes to raising crickets, he says, the hardest part is harvesting, “and we have now automated almost 100% of that. ”

He explained: “You have you have to wash everything, collect the crickets, separate the crickets from the droppings and separate the living crickets from all the dead crickets [a small percentage will die regardless of the conditions, he says, although Aspire has honed the operation such that it has dramatically reduced this percentage].

“We want to provide crickets with the healthiest and least stressful environment possible, which means monitoring conditions at every stage of life, especially the first 48 hours.”

The best environment for baby crickets

Baby crickets (also called “pinheads”), for example, need moisture, but they cannot have water droplets because they are so small that they can drown in them. he will notice.

There are also a lot of things that the pinheads cannot climb, so if you leave divots or spaces that they can fall into and not come out of, they will just stack on top of each other, so a lot of the engineering has gone into not just the design of the environment, but the materials that we select and the way the materials are finished, how the water is supplied, all of those things.

“If the food is not fine enough, for example, crickets cannot eat it because they are too small.

House crickets are gregarious, but they are stressed and start to eat each other if they are too crowded.

As for optimal densities, house crickets are “gregarious“and enjoy spending time with their fellow crickets, but are notoriously stressed, aggressive and start to nibble if they are too tight,” he said, so as a business operator you have to find the right place so that you can run an efficient farm and the crickets have enough space to thrive.

“They will gain 800 times their weight in less than a month. It’s a mind-boggling growth rate. They are also climbers, so what really matters in terms of space is not the volume, but the area.

He added: “When we started out, we were looking in the literature and trying to see what we could learn, and we found that the literature told us next to nothing, because it is based on small containers, very small populations, and it just did not translate into bigger cities.

“We do a ton of monitoring at our Austin, Texas site and we’ve been able to learn a lot, but as we move into this large-scale facility, we’re working with partners, including a large telecommunications company. . [TELUS Agriculture] in Canada, a manufacturer of sophisticated sensors [Swiftlabs], and an AI startup [DarwinAI​​] to collect data at unprecedented levels and then analyze it. “

Application of industrial automation and robotics, IoT and deep learning / analysis to cricket rearing and processing

The sensors designed and developed by Swiftlabs will monitor the environment, using a private industrial 5G IoT network from TELUS to provide real-time information on plant conditions and operations, according to Aspire, which has obtained a series of patents. in developing technologies for the new facility. .

DarwinAI’s machine learning tool will then determine the optimum light, sound, humidity, temperature and food supply, initially providing recommendations to plant operators, but ultimately controlling production in an automated feedback loop. .

A&L Biological will develop bio-based fertilizers from cricket droppings generated by the plant, while Dematic will implement a high-density 11-storey automated storage and retrieval system.

  • Order Part I of FoodNavigator-USA’s’Edible insects at a glance ” series HEREAnd watch Part III in the coming days …

EXO_Backpack

Snacks, bars and protein powders are the main areas of application for edible insect powders.

However, cricket powder also works well in veggie burgers, sausages, fruit wraps, shakes, and other products. Inclusion rates vary by product and are in many cases limited by cost rather than functionality, although you can usually get more at a bar than, say, chips.

Since cricket powder looks more like protein powder than flour, 1: 1 substitutions with wheat flour are generally not recommended.

Photo: Hoppy Planet Foods (which acquired EXO Protein this fall).

Feeding the crickets: are you what you eat?

Aspire is currently using a modified form of certified organic poultry feed to feed its crickets, but is investigating whether it could in the future incorporate a percentage of food waste streams or other more affordable / sustainable options without damaging the consistency of the product. final.

The challenge – and the opportunity, says Aspire, is that crickets are the literal manifestation of the axiom “you are what you eat”. In other words, if you want to produce cricket flour with higher iron content, you can design it quite easily by giving them iron rich foods. On the other hand, if you put junk in it, you get out of it.

Post-consumer waste, for example, is usually too variable, which can impact both the growth rates and health of crickets and the consistency of the cricket powder they turn into. Food waste from commercial manufacturing operations is more attractive because of its greater consistency, although it can still present challenges, the company says.

Treatment of crickets

After harvest, house crickets [Acheta domesticus​] – which are rich in complete protein (65% by dry weight), iron, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids) are frozen, dried and sold as is, ground into powder or ground in suspension and spray dried (this which results in a paler, finer powder suitable for more food and beverage applications, Mott said).

“We have a bunch of different approaches [to processing]. We have a patent for spray drying, and we also offer different roasting and grinding approaches, depending on what the consumer is looking for.


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