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An Appetite for Insects

Published on Saturday, 10 Oct 2020

Grazing Food’s Lucie Somé is putting crickets, mealworms and grasshoppers on the menu with Hong Kong’s first online store for insect-based snacks, powders and pasta, writes Helen Dalley

Could sourcing our protein from insects really help us save the planet? With the world’s population expected to reach nine billion people by 2050, we are being forced to examine the sustainability of the global food chain. Agricultural methods and eating habits need to adapt, and eating insects is one solution that many are taking more seriously, given that their production is climate friendly. They emit 80 times less methane than cows, and require significantly less land and water to cultivate, as they can be kept and bred in cardboard or plastic boxes before they are placed in an industrial freezer then sold whole or churned into powders. Insects are healthy too: packed with protein, vitamins and amino acids, they are also low in fats and sugars.

Inspired by their father’s tales of snacking on bugs while growing up in Burkina Faso and noticing the emerging demand for nutritious, sustainable sources of protein, Lucie Somé and her brother, Nicolas, founded Grazing Foods, an e-commerce business that sells a range of insect-based products suitable for breakfast, lunch and healthy snacking. Products available at its site include paprika grasshoppers and sour cream & onion buffalo worm snacks from French firm Jimini’s, Europe’s leader of insect-based products. It also stocks cricket & hemp protein powder from New Zealand’s Primal Future, and cricket pasta from Bugsolutely, which is based in Thailand.

Established February 2019, the food importer and distributor started taking online sales late last year. “Since then, we’ve been pushing the BTOC sales – we are selling online to private customers and teachers that want their class to discover ‘the food of the future’,” says Somé, who is responsible for sales while Nicolas focuses on purchasing and logistics.

Somé spent seven years in bakery sales in Mainland China and Hong Kong before setting up the business. After quitting her job, the entrepreneur began to visit food exhibitions to source a product that could make a difference to food service. “We were looking for a dry product that would be easy to import, store and distribute in Hong Kong.”

She discovered that edible insects could be eaten as flavoured snacks or incorporated into energy bars, pasta, or protein powder. As such, it seemed like an attractive proposition for B2C, chefs and retailers. “It was a great opportunity to target different types of clients and educate people about this quite misunderstood product,” she explains.

The startup originally assumed that transformed products would sell best because the practice of eating insects isn’t common in Hong Kong, even though scorpions, grasshoppers and crickets are all popular street food snacks across the border in Mainland China. However, this was not the case. “Many Hong Kongers are ready to eat raw insects. We’ve had great feedback and sales on our cricket snack range, particularly the smoked onion BBQ flavour.”

The entrepreneur very much enjoys eating insects herself. “I’m a big fan of transformed products such as energy bars. Since I’m flexitarian, I incorporate cricket powder into my smoothies and dishes every day. It brings a nutty flavour and gives me the amount of protein I need daily.”

Somé is hopeful that its products will hold particular appeal to the younger generation. “Sustainability is very important for them; they care about where food comes from and how it’s made.” The success of Impossible Foods’ plant-based range is a good example that people are open to trying different sources of protein, she adds.

Grazing Food’s strategy for 2020 has been developing its BtoB sales and selling to supermarkets, specialised retailers, restaurants and hotels. The goal is to grow BtoB sales dramatically this year so it gets bigger than online sales, she says. One initiative it will employ to boost B2B sales is to increase the number of SKU’s in its range. “We are constantly looking at new products like biscuits and cakes and we’ve found another potential supplier located in France,” says Somé.  

Educating people about the brand and its products is key, says the entrepreneur, whose has hosted an insect tasting at CityU and a podcast, “Grown in Asia”, with fintech company Statrys.

The startup is also planning to take part in food-related exhibitions in the city. “It’s important for us to get maximum visibility and participate in F&B events in Hong Kong. The more the F&B community see us at events, the more chance we have to develop fast.”

The entrepreneur believes that participating in, or sponsoring events should additionally form part of its approach as it builds the business. There are further plans to organise more insect tastings, host wine & insect-pairing events, and launch a Youtube channel featuring fun videos related to edible insects.

Now the Hong Kong market is becoming more established, the startup has set its sights on Singapore and Cambodia, where insects are widely consumed.

As the startup focuses on driving brand exposure, Somé says it plans to hire a sales and marketing team. In the long term, she hopes Grazing Foods can develop its own brand of products and find importers worldwide to distribute it. “We are aware this is still a niche market but we are betting on this new opportunity to become mainstream. It’s rewarding to see the interest of people who are ready for this new kind of food.”