Bugs for food is considered a major potential market, but it’s not all easy money.
“It’s hard to find employees when you’re a company that raises grasshoppers,” said Dror Tamir, CEO and founder of Hargol FoodTech, which raises grasshoppers for food. This is one of the company’s biggest impediments to growth.
“This is one of the reasons that it’s hard for us to operate in Israel. We’ve managed to recently hire 12 workers, and we’re bringing in workers with disabilities in northern Israel as part of a program to develop outlying areas. A national development initiative by [venture capitalist and former MK] Erel Margalit announced that there would be 15,000 food tech workers in the Galilee, but in the meanwhile we’re stuck with just 15.”
Tamir was speaking at the Food Tech panel during TheMarker’s High-Tech Conference.
“There’s no question that it’s private initiatives promoting food-tech. The government can help by not getting in the way,” he said. “I don’t know if any of you have tried to receive approval for a new food from the Health Ministry. Local regulation moves very slowly. We wanted them to recognize grasshoppers as a new food, and it’s been a year and a half since then. In the meanwhile we’ve started selling in Singapore and Australia,” he said.
Demand for protein is likely to double, says Tamir.
“Currently there is no small number of people who lack protein. As opposed to meat substitutes, grasshoppers are already here. Some 2 billion people are willing to eat them and to pay good money for them. In Saudi Arabia, they cost $300 per kilo. In nature, they can be found only 6-8 weeks out of the year,” he explained.
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Five years ago, most everyone would have called his product gross, he says. Now, people are more willing to try it - and that’s just the whole grasshoppers. When it comes to protein powder or cookies, some 80% of people would be willing to try, says Tamir. Some even consider it a delicacy.
Shahar Florence, VP-growth and innovation within the Strauss Group, noted that people’s eating habits are changing. Once, a meal was considered meat, starch and a vegetable. Now, people have varied dietary restrictions.
“We’re a big Israeli company, but relatively small in the world,” he said. “Our means of leveraging ourselves is through knowledge. There’s a ton of knowledge in this field, but at the moment there’s no guiding hand or finance.”
Strauss is investing in a company that develops beef from a cell culture, and in another company that creates a plant-based egg substitute, he said.
“People aren’t just eating more calories, they’re also checking what they’re eating. Technology makes this accessible, cheaper and efficient, and hopefully more nourishing and good tasting,” he said.