Here’s some food for thought: What if creepy crawlies were to become the next health-food craze?
Three Florida International University students want to make insects a staple of the American diet and have already whipped up some recipes that are mixed with bugs.
After some experimenting, Nicolezander Garza, Valerie Yoda and Ricardo Delgado have created the insect-based food product company Senzu Foods. The team, which won third place in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, says the nutritional value of insects might win over more than just intrepid diners.
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In fact, they say the country is behind the trend when it comes to entomophagy, or insect consumption. More than 80 percent of the world already consumes insects, according to their research.
“In other parts of the world, this is a common practice,” Delgado said.
Last fall, they came across a TED Talk by Dutch scientist Marcel Dicke who suggested that insects are higher in protein than meats and fish, and can also be rich in other nutrients, such as copper, iron, magnesium and zinc.
“It is very inexpensive in terms of protein. Compared to beef, crickets, for example, have less fats and higher protein,” Garza said.
A 2013 report by the United Nations also lauded insects’ nutritional and environmental benefits, and galvanized more bug chefs.
“The market as a whole is relatively new,” Delgado said. “It is going to grow exponentially.”
Delgado, who is a junior, says he was drawn to the project because of his longstanding interest in global food security. Insects are also a lot less difficult to keep, requiring a fraction of the land, water and feed compared to traditional protein sources.
So using their combined expertise they began experimenting in the kitchen. Yoda, 22, is the chef and a senior studying hospitality and psychology at FIU. Garza, a 22-year-old senior, studies economics, physics, and history but has experience in business strategy, and Delgado, 23, is getting a degree in economics and international relations.
Senzu is one of a handful of insect-based food companies, but most focus on crickets and protein bars. Senzu’s menu would go further, including several types of insects and more items, such as cookies.
“The market is booming,” Garza said. “We want to hop on that and amplify it more.”
Most companies selling insect protein bars aim their products toward the health-concious and paleo dieters whose meals are heavy in protein, but Senzu wants to get insect alternatives in all households and thinks cookies might be a palatable beginner snack.
“We’re not stopping there,” Delgado said. “We’re not just thinking about active people, but also people with nutritional deficiencies.”
Their hope is that a child would be more interested in eating a cookie for certain nutrients instead of taking vitamins.
Those squeamish about bugs might be comforted to know that all of the trio’s products conceal any insect anatomy, and do not have an identifiable unique “bug” taste.
“You are not going to see antennae,” Delgado said. “It is going to be processed into the food.”
Recently, they brought the protein bars to some friends who are CrossFit enthusiasts to test the products. At first, they did not tell them about their secret ingredient.
“You can’t tell if the bugs are in there or not,” said one of their testers, Yasdier Lyon Esteban. “I was like, ‘What is this? Wow,’ but they’re really good. As a protein source, it seems weird, but once you look into it, it seems like a really good alternative.”
So far, a favorite has been the peanut-butter protein bar (with cricket), which both Delgado and Garza prefer.
“The reaction has been positive in terms of the idea and taste,” Delgado said.
Now that most of their menu is finalized, the entrepreneurs will work to get the business legally established and FDA-approved. They also want to soon launch a Kickstarter campaign to generate funding and interest.
“We want to build a community of people’s support,” Garza said. “We want to get people involved so they can follow our products and feel part of it.”
Once the business is established, they say they hope to start out selling online and then through Amazon.com and at athletic events.
The plan is to also sell the bars in natural-food stores and CrossFit-type gyms — places that draw people mindful of a healthy lifestyle.
But their biggest caveat will be getting buyers past the “ew” factor of snacking on insects.
“The challenge is that you have to get the idea into people’s minds,” Garza said. “A lot of our marketing is about education. We want people to know it’s a better source of protein with more nutritional value and better costs.”