Contxto – Did you know that insects are anthropods, just like shrimps and lobsters? So what’s stopping us humans from eating bugs besides being picky eaters? Costa Rica Insect Company (CRIC) is one Latin American startup showing us that bugs are not only edible but nutritious.
Description: B2B producer of insect powder as an environmental and nutritional solution.
Country: Costa Rica
Industry: FoodTech, GreenTech
Founders: Daniela Arias Rivera, Alejandro Ortega
Founding Date: 2018
As food scarcity becomes a valid concern for future generations, this young Costa Rican company wants the world to start considering insects as healthy alternatives. Half of the founding team is Alejandro Ortega, who is the CEO of CRIC. He runs the business and marketing operations. Daniela Arias Rivera is fellow co-founder who specializes in nutrition as the CTO.
While the duo created CRIC in 2018, the idea has been forming for a while.
“About three years ago, I was taking a course in college about nutrition and insects,” said Rivera. “I was talking to Alejandro about it, saying that insects are the future. About a year later, he suggested buying crickets and staring a farm, and that’s how it all began.”
What originally began as a cricket farm has gradually transformed into a startup using innovative methods to sell insect products as raw materials. Based on this concept, the company aims to combat food scarcity with its zero waste model. More bugs in our diets would ultimately result in less resource extraction and fewer harmful environmental practices used to produce meat products.
Production takes place in one of the most humid and warmest parts of Costa Rica in a town called Siquirres. In the Limón Province on the Pacific side of the country, Rivera and Ortega manage a property to run operations.
“There, we have all the traceability you can get,” said Rivera. “We are also using all of these environmental factors that are so important to cultivating bugs. That way, we don’t have to spend on electricity or water even, taking advantage of the environmental conditions here in Costa Rica.”
Rather than extracting crickets from nature, the founders raise them themselves. Crickets grow up in this facility with a life cycle between 8 and 10 weeks. Once they are collected, the insects are placed in cold temperatures to induce hibernation. They are then frozen, baked, and the process of turning them into powder begins.
They will soon launch a job program with local farmers to have a socioeconomic impact while also scaling production.
Like many parts of the world, Latin Americans love their meat. While meat isn’t the most ecological thing to produce considering how much water and land it requires, CRIC founders aren’t morally against meat consumption. Both actually love to eat meat. Rather, they want to promote ecological alternatives.
“What we are doing is tell people that there is another option of something to eat that can help change the world in the process,” said Ortega. “When they realize what meat is doing to the world, then they start considering eating insects.”
Part of CRIC’s mission is to motivate consumers to independently look for environmental solutions rather than preaching insect consumption. That’s to say, the Costa Rican startup wants people to view insects as a raw material that can be incorporated into pre-existing behaviors or culture. This makes it easier to accept eating bugs.
“We try to make people more conscious and empathetic towards insects,” said Rivera. “Not just to eat a whole cricket but so that consumers can know how to use them, why they are important to eat, and that they are also nutritious and environmentally sustainable.”
Fun fact: 100 grams of insect powder equates to around 70 grams of protein. Insects also carry healthy vitamins such as B12 and minerals such as calcium and iron. Not only are insects a healthy substitute for meat but they have a low-impact on the environment.
As of today, CRIC sells insect powder to other food manufacturing companies. It is also still in the pre-revenue stages and working towards creating more consumer products. So far, it hasn’t worked much with investors, either. It first wants to focus on selling the powder on the international market.
“Right now, we’re on the road to start exporting,” said Ortega. “As soon as we start exporting, the value of the company is going to change completely. We would rather have the investors come after the exports, at this point.”
Ortega adds, “The main reason that we’ve been pre-revenue all this time is because of breeding insects. Biologists may say it’s easy but when you try to make a business out of it, it’s very difficult. The other part is all of the certifications one needs to export and sell.”
Rivera also says that “There has been a lot of challenges. Mainly, regulations and the bureaucracy of establishing a business here.”
Knowing that regulations would be a challenge in Costa Rica where bureaucracy is an issue, the founders succeeded in overcoming various legal issues to operate CRIC.
“Basically, we had to deal with it and now we fixed it,” said Ortega. “We knew it was one of the biggest challenges we will have, so at first we focused all of our energy on that.”
Mostly, CRIC is a B2B company selling insect powder for some of the lowest prices. On the market, a kilo of insect powder ranges between US$60 and US$70. However, CRIC does this at a US$40 starting price.
“Our main line of revenue is B2B,” said Rivera. “So we try to sell to other food industry companies so that they can make other products for the regular population and final consumer.”
Around half of the materials CRIC uses are also either recycled or reused.
CRIC has previously raised US$15,000 during a pre-seed round.
By August, Rivera and Ortega plan to start exporting its product to a fellow bug company in Guadalajara, Mexico. CRIC managed to overcome legal issues surrounding exporting edible insects to focus future efforts on scaling operations.
“We figured out a way to actually register the raw materials and then export it anywhere in the world,” said Ortega, who also intends to start exporting to Europe within the next six months. “This was one of the industry issues, as well as the price. That’s why we are scaling production so we can provide better prices than anyone else while also being accessible.”
In addition to distributing its solution, CRIC founders also aspire to run a seed round worth US$200 thousand. Meanwhile, it would also like to participate in competitions to gain more exposure. From September 7 to 11, the startup will compete at the Future Agro Challenge in Thessaloniki, Greece, the largest agro entrepreneurship competition in the world.
Over time, the Costa Rican startup also hopes to develop new products. One of these will be a gluten-free high-protein multipurpose insect flour for making pizza dough, tortillas, cookies, etc. There is also research to make plastic substitutes made from insects’ exoskeletons.
“This will help us create a circular economy,” said Rivera, referring to the economic system trying to minimize waste and make the most of resources.”Even our products will be packed from our own insects.”
Eating bugs may not sound appetizing now but the benefits are undeniable. I even tried my first cricket last week and it was pretty much like an oddly shaped potato chip, salty and crunchy.
In every sense of the word, bugs are more sustainable. They consume 2,000 times less water, occupy 25 times less space, and require 12 times less food to sustain themselves. Overall, they generate 100 times fewer greenhouse gases than livestock.
When it comes to nutrients, bugs are also known as superfoods. They carry all the protein, healthy fat, fiber, vitamins, minerals, calcium, and other nutrients, that humans require. Need I say more?
Bear Grylls approves.