It started with the simple thought that the protein-bar market was a little buggy.
Gabi Lewis, a college student who was sorely disappointed with all of the workout snacks out there, set out to make a better protein bar — with crickets.
“Most protein bars are candy bars disguised as health food and I wanted to make something that was actually healthy,” said Lewis, who was a student at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island at the time and now lives in Williamsburg.
When Lewis first had the idea to make his own energy bars, he considered a variety of protein sources, including hemp, soy, peas, and egg whites. It was Lewis’ business partner Greg Sewitz who first suggested bugs after learning about insect protein at an environmental forum. At the time, Lewis thought his pal was buggin’ out.
“I did not think it would be enough to build a product around,” said Lewis. “People do not buy a protein bar because it is good for the environment.”
But the more he learned about crickets, the better they sounded. Crickets require 20 times fewer resources to produce than an equal amount of beef and contain up to 70 percent protein, a much higher percentage than other protein sources.
Last year, Lewis and Sewitz formed a company called Exo and launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised $20,000 in 72 hours to get started. The next step was to locate a cricket farmer to buy from. They found one in Louisiana and, in March, they produced their first large batch of 40,000 bars and started selling them at places such as Brooklyn gyms, speciality stores, and the Bushwick Food Cooperative.
“The meat eaters are the most interested,” said Amanda Pitts, general manager at the co-op, adding that the store sold out of six cases of the bars within a week.
And it turns out the ethical aspect provided the product as much of a boost as the protein punch it packs.
“We have really high sourcing standards at the co-op,” Pitts said. “And we do not want to have stuff that is bad for the environment and these bars fit in with that.”
It is important to note for our more squeamish readers that Exo bars do not have any stray legs or antenna poking out of them. The crickets are frozen, roasted, and pulverized into a fine powder before being formed into the $3 bars, which come in peanut butter and jelly, cacao nut, and cashew-ginger flavors.
Lewis is sure that crickets will soon be standard fare in the United States.
“There is a long list of foods that we once thought were disgusting but are now cool and inspirational,” he said. “When sushi first came out, everyone in the United States thought raw fish was absolutely disgusting.”
The company is currently working with farmers and the United States Department of Agriculture to figure out how to create an organic certification for insects.