Innovation means having an understanding of when an opportunity presents itself, when the timing is propitious and then having the resolve, the drive and the acumen to take advantage of this remarkable confluence of good fortune and good timing.
Such was the case for the Goldin Brothers of Entomo Farms, who turned what initially was a moderately successful business venture serving a loyal but limited marketplace, into a potential global leader, with a seemingly limitless potential for growth.
And it’s all thanks to the lowly cricket.
Originally from South Africa, Darren, Ryan and Jarrod Goldin moved to Canada with their parents in 1986. Hard working, industrious, independent thinkers, the Darren and Ryan founded a number of business enterprises throughout their youth and by the early 2000s owned and operated **** a ‘farm’ that raised crickets to be sold as foot to the retail pet food sector and burgeoning domestic reptile market.
That was more than 12 years ago. But thanks to a pivotal United Nations report a few years back and an episode of the popular American business-based reality show Shark Tank changed everything for the Goldin brothers.
“Basically, they’ve always turned their hobbies into businesses. Their first business was called Living Rhythm and they manufactured exotic percussion instruments. But all along they were always into snakes and reptiles as pets. They started off by breeding a popular kind of python, but then they realized that you can only sell a guy a snake once, but you call sell him snake food every month or every week. So they started breeding rats and then got into insects for lizards and snakes. They just kept learning and getting better and better at it and really become very proficient at it. They formed a company called Reptile Feeders that did quite well for 12 years or so,” said Jarrod, who was a chiropractor and chiropractic instructor for more the two decades before deciding to join Darren and Ryan in their new business venture in 2014.
An Opportunistic Landscape
“What happened to change everything was in 2013 the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a white paper that was entitled ‘Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security.’ That same week, a guy was on Shark Tank touting a protein bar made with cricket powder. Mark Cuban ended up investing in his business, and today he is one of our biggest customers.
“I called my brothers up and said it was very serendipitous: you’ve got the UN and the FAO touting edible insects as food and feed security for the world and you have a guy like Mark Cuban investing in a consumer facing brand made partially from ground up crickets. I said to them, ‘you guys know more than anyone about framing insects, why don’t we raise some money and start North America’s first human grade insect farm.’”
They agreed and formed what was initially called Millennium Farm in Campbellford in 2014, now called Entomo Farms, as Entomo is ancient Greek for insect (actually literally it means ‘cut up’ because insects are segmented). The main farm is now closer to Norwood, but the processing facility remains in Campbellford.
Room To Grow
“We started off with 5,000 square feet and we have since grown to 60,000 square feet of farm space, and there’s another 20,000 hedged for future growth. The UN report was the impetus for this business as well as the Shark Tank thing, and because of both of those and the awareness they created, there’s just been an unbelievable explosion in every facet of our business.”
By now, readers may have already had their ‘ick’ instinct kick in. And that’s to be expected, especially for those who have primarily been raised with a North American palate and food sensibilities. But it must be noted that insects are regularly consumed as food by more than two billion people, or about 33 per cent of the world’s population.
What Entomo is selling is an very fine powder, with a level of protein that blows meat out of the water in terms of the cost in producing it. The powder is sold to a number of firms, such as the aforementioned protein bar manufacturer, who use it to create consumer products.
“Our real core competence is that we are an ingredient company. We are selling the ingredients and we are leaving it to our customers to put it into consumer packaged goods like pasta, pasta sauce, protein bars, whatever,” Goldin explained, adding that the ick factor is not new when exotic foods have been introduced to the normally staid Canadian and America palates.
Think about sushi – which is raw fish. When it came to market it faced a similar reaction and obviously the western population developed a taste for sushi because there seems to be a sushi restaurant on every corner in major centres, and you can even get it at your grocery stores. I think there’s a change happening in the paradigm of what ‘icky’ food us.
People are wising up and they are seeing food that makes them ill, diabetic, obese or developing heart disease as being icky – all the junk food and processed food and candy bars and the like. People are increasing only looking for food that promotes health and also sustainability – people want food that has a transparent production process and that is functional. More and more people are only interested in food that will make them and their children healthy and live longer.
Sustainability and growing environmental concerns over rapid climate change are also meaning people are looking for ways to develop food that has the protein we need, but without the negative environmental consequences. Insects, especially crickets, are breathtakingly sustainable, according to Goldin.
“You’ve got people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and [Titanic director] James Cameron urging the public to eat less meat. They were both at the Paris Climate Summit last year and released public service announcements about this. And, listen, we’re not against meat; we’re not an anti-meat company, but let me give you an example. If a family of four, one day a week, chose insect protein over meat protein, so that’s for all three meals of the day – it would save the planet one million litres of water. And that doesn’t include the greenhouse gases and carbon emissions or all the other stuff associated with meat farming. If people were to just include a bit of insect protein into their weekly meal place, we could change the climate story and make an impact on people’s health and the environment,” Goldin said, also pointing out that the waste generated by the insects makes for a great fertilizer.
“People who come to visit our farm have usually been to cattle farms, chicken farms and maybe even an abattoir and there is always an inordinate smell and so much waste created. There is no waste from us. We recycle the poop and we freeze, roast and grind the entire cricket – nothing is thrown out. We look forward to the day where we can be completely self-contained, where we will grow the grain, fertilized with cricket poop, and we’ll use those grains to feed our crickets and we’ll use the crickets to feed livestock and people. It will be a completely, fully-functional, non-waste facility.”
Because they are the only farm of its kind in Canada, and the largest in North America, Goldin said Entomo is in the privileged position of not having to solicit customers: yet another advantage when you are unafraid to be innovative – but in a smart manner.
“We haven’t called anybody. We don’t have a sales force – everything is essentially inbound, and it’s because we have the right ingredient at the right time, with the right expertise and experience to make it work and take advantage of the timing and the explosive demand. Loblaw’s recently put out a press statement and the number one bullet point item on their list of food trends for 2017 is insects. And, in fact, they just placed their first small order with us yesterday. So it’s definitely moving where it needs to,” said Goldin.