Health food startup using crickets to crack into protein bar market

Power-packed crickets are no gimmick says North Vancouver co-founder of Coast Protein

It’s a chain of events that the four co-founders of Coast Protein have seen hundreds of times.

Informed that the protein bar they’re about to sample is made with crickets, a taster will make a scrunched-up face before very slowly and warily taking a tiny nibble. When the bar hits the mouth, the expression changes immediately. There’s no cricket crunch, no beetle juice. It tastes pretty much like . . . a protein bar.

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“Once they take their first bite they realize it’s not all that it’s built up to be,” says Chris Baird, a North Vancouver native and St. Thomas Aquinas grad. “After that it’s smooth sailing.”

“Once they get it in the mouth their expression changes to, ‘Oh my gosh,’” adds John Larigakis, Baird’s lifelong friend who graduated from Carson Graham. “They come by, they’re pained, then they’re relieved, and we see them 20 minutes later with other people trying to egg their friends on to try it as well.”

For the foursome running Coast Protein – which includes New Westminster’s Dylan Jones and Stefanie Di Giovanni – crickets are no gimmick.

The group’s research showed that crickets are a complete protein that contains all nine essential amino acids, as well as essential vitamins and minerals like calcium, zinc, iron, and magnesium. They are also environmentally friendly, using much less water and land than traditional livestock while producing far less greenhouse gases.

“So much of the food that we eat is already weird and unnatural – something as natural and wholesome as a cricket shouldn’t be looked down upon,” says Baird, adding that insects are a perfectly acceptable food source in 80 per cent of the world’s countries. “There’s so much discussion these days about the impact of what you eat – your diet – has on the environment, and you hear about the impact that animal agriculture can have on global warming, so it just kind of seemed like the right idea at the right time.”

The idea to turn crickets into a high protein snack first crept into the mind of Dylan Jones when he was travelling in Cambodia.

“It was this little bus stop and there was this tiny little lady frying up crickets in a big, huge wok with chili peppers and little lime leaves, rock salt and things like that,” he says. “When you go to those bus stops they always have ‘western’ food, which is just old potato chips and the worst hamburgers you’ve seen in your life. And on the other side they have the local food, which all looks and smells so good. It was kind of an easy choice.”

He chose the crickets, and discovered that the taste was “crazy good.” Thus, the idea for Coast Protein was born. Back in Canada, Jones recruited his three partners and they went to work on the product, blending natural ingredients with powdered cricket sourced from an organic farm in Ontario. So how does it taste?

The North Shore News held an unscientific taste test of the peanut butter and chocolate sea salt bars. About a quarter of the tasters flat-out refused to try cricket; another quarter – mostly the hard-core world travellers – jumped in for a chomp with no hesitation; and 50 per cent followed the usual script of trepidation followed by surprised satisfaction. As one taster put it, if you put your expectations as high as a sweet chocolate bar, you might be disappointed.

But if you go in expecting a bug-guts gross out, you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. It tastes, in fact, like many other nutritious and natural protein bars.

The team has a higher goal here: to normalize cricket as a healthy and environmentally friendly source of protein – and the public seems to be buying in. Coast Protein started a Kickstarter campaign earlier this month hoping to raise $20,000 in 30 days. They raised that total in 72 hours.

The campaign is still running and the total has passed $30,000, giving them enough money to refine their production process and introduce a new flavour. They currently produce their bars in New Westminster but the longterm hope is to move to a larger facility in North Vancouver where they can increase their production.

“We were really blown away by the customer response,” says Baird. “We hoped that we were going to do well, but we couldn’t have dreamed that we would do this well. We’re really happy and now are kind of inspired to set our sights even higher.”

For more information on the Kickstarter campaign and to find out where you can find the bars, including at Lower Lonsdale’s The Juicery, visit coastprotein.com.

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