Smith grew up on a corn and soybean farm in Iowa, went to play basketball at the University of Philadelphia and later professionally in Ireland (where she earned a master’s degree in finance), and began working. as an equity derivatives trader before deciding to abruptly change direction.
“I worked at the trading desk for about three and a half years before I realized I hated it”, said Smith. âSo I quit and went home to the family farm, where my dad encouraged me to look at niche markets, and started researching entomophagy. [eating insects].“
âIt was both fascinating and horrifying that all of these people were building brands without controlling the supply chain. [for their core ingredient]’
Given his family background, his original plan was to focus on raising crickets, letting others create CPG brands featuring his edible insects, Smith adds.
âBut there have been a lot of brands that came on and then died, and no small player in the US is going to compete with Thailand on price, so I decided to raise my own crickets.â
On a more strategic level, meanwhile, being in control of your own supply chain in such an emerging market also seemed important, she notes: âIt was both fascinating and horrifying that all of these people were building brands without having control of the supply chain. [for their core ingredient].
“So I opened my dedicated treatment plant in the summer of 2019.”
Looking back, she said, âI’m really happy to have followed the path I did. It forced me to grow slower, but I have a guaranteed market [her own CPG brand] on another side. Today I also have four contract producers who I taught how to raise crickets for me, and then I process them. “
‘Whole crickets are responsible for 70% of my sales’
But does it have a guaranteed market for its finished products? And how is Gym-N-Eat cricketsefficient?
It started selling its products in farmers’ markets, before moving to brick and mortar stores in 2020, and is now in about 100 stores, including 50 Hy-Vee stores in the Midwest, which feature the top four. flavors of its roasted, running whole crickets. to the tale that the best way to introduce Americans to edible bugs is to use formats that cover up the fact that you eat, well, bugs.
“Whole crickets [which come in flavors such as Smokey BBQ and Buffalo Ranch] are responsible for 70% of my sales “, said Smith.
“If you had to tell me at the beginning [that whole crickets would be her top sellers], I would have said ‘No way’, although part of the reason could be that 2020 and 2021 have been pretty horrible for the nutritional bar category because of COVID-19, which is part of the reason Hy-Vee opted for the whole crickets.
“So at Hy-Vee I’m near the jerky and nutty section or the paleo section, but they also fit into the keto or low carb sections of the stores.”
âI’m happy if they get it back for the first time just because of the novelty. What matters is that they come back … ‘
Although some people hate the idea of ââeating crickets, she saysFrankly, for people who have a massive aversion to eating insects, it doesn’t matter if you crush them or eat them whole, their decision is already made. But that being said, I do offer cricket bars because for some people …[the format matters] and I recognize that there are small steps, so I have clients that start with the bars and then move on to whole crickets or powder.
As for what motivates the initial purchase, she adds: âOf course there is something new, but I’m happy that they are choosing it for the first time just because of the novelty. What matters is that they come back for more because they are surprised that they like them. “
“I can tell you for sure that here in the Midwest the momentum is building”
So, is this a viable business with potential for growth, or really something for the hobbyist?
Obviously, insect breeding isn’t anyone’s idea of ââa get-rich-quick scheme, Smith concedes (“I live in my parents’ basement, because, you know, entrepreneurship is very glamorous â), but it’s more than a hobby, she insists.
âI can tell you for sure that here in the Midwest the momentum is building. It’s night and day, the difference between when I left three years ago and today, although for venture capitalists, yes, it’s probably still too slow, and you see some people turning to animal feed.
When it comes to marketing, which is understanding your target consumer, she says, âA lot of cricket protein products appear to be bars and powders aimed at men between the ages of 18 and 35 who enjoy mountain biking. But in my experience here in the Midwest talking to thousands of people in a place not known for progressive palates, it’s three to one women for men who will try cricket for the first time at all. levels, regardless of age, it can be small children up to 70 years old.
“My ideal client is a woman with children under the age of 10. People want their children to have protein and for some reason their children love crickets.”
“The first thing I say to anyone who walks up like my stall is, ‘Do you eat shrimp or lobster?’
So what kinds of things typically resonate with consumers who have never tried crickets before?
âThe very first thing I say to anyone who walks up as my stand is, ‘Hey, are you eating shrimp or lobster? I have a big poster on my stand that says “Eat prairie lobster” because I call crickets prairie lobster – the same way some people call them land shrimp, because that starts the conversation.
âFor the powder, I tell people, think of it like a high protein flax meal that you can put in anything, and it will really increase the nutritional profile of your food.
âThere are also people who can’t tolerate dairy, so they can’t eat whey protein, and that’s something to watch instead. I think being an athlete certainly helps, too, as my background gives credence to talking about health and protein.
“People have no idea what half an ounce of crickets should cost”
As for the price, she points out, the good thing about selling whole roasted crickets is that American consumers don’t really have a frame of reference for how much to pay, whereas with bars, for example, they can have more than one sense of what represents value for money.
“People have no idea what half an ounce of crickets should cost, which allows us to create a little extra margin, so in Hy-Vee a half ounce bag of crickets is between 4 , $ 50 and $ 5.
Smith’s direct consumer activity – which she launched in December 2019 – is moving forward, she said. “But I have seen interesting growth over the past couple of months in online marketplaces such as To partyand Aboundand Tundraand places like that.
âLive events are also very important to me because there is an education factor with crickets, so when I can stand in front of people, talk about what I’m doing and hand out samples, the conversion rate is very good. We had a booth at the Iowa State Fair this year where there was a very diverse crowd, and the reception was awesome.