LIHUE — Cricket farmers Lourdes Torres and Emilio Ruiz-Romero are creating a superfood eatery centered on the use of the bugs as a main protein source, with sustainability as the foundation of their business.
“We’re micromanaging every aspect of everything we do to make sure that it’s truly sustainable,” Torres said. “That means sourcing locally as much as possible and making sure that all of the packaging is biodegradable.”
Crickets came into the mix with a 2013 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report that hailed eating the bugs as a way to reduce pollution, conserve water and help feed the anticipated 9 billion people on Earth in the next 50 years.
Eating insects is common in 80 percent of the world, though the practice isn’t as common in the United States.
Crickets could be a way to feed the estimated 795 million people starving in the world right now, the report said, because of protein levels comparable to beef and very high levels of calcium and magnesium.
The report says it would also be good for the environment.
Cattle require 12 times more feed than crickets to produce the same amount of protein, the UN reported, and require much more water than their tiny counterparts as well.
“We’re part of a food revolution right now,” Torres said.
They’ve secured a storefront on Kuhio Highway in Lihue and their business plan is in the Kauai Economic Development Board’s Agricultural Business Plan Competition. That’s got a prize pool of more than $30,000.
“We’ve been taking classes with KEDB,” Ruiz-Romero said. “Winning that money would be really helpful for equipment like blenders and refrigerators.”
The crickets are being raised at Torres’ Kilauea house, in large bins. Once they’ve lived out their six-week cycle, they are frozen, dehydrated and ground into a powder.
“We did a lot of research on the most humane and sustainable way to kill the crickets,” Torres said.
The powder will then be featured as one of the many superfood options to add into your fruit smoothie at the front counter. It will also be added to the baked goods, like chocolate chip cookies.
The idea came into being about a year ago, when Torres and Ruiz-Romero crossed paths.
“He’s an entrepreneur that wanted to open up a business on Kauai and I wanted to spread the idea of using crickets as protein instead of other protein sources,” Torres said. “We met and said we’d be a great team.”
Ruiz-Romero’s original plan was to create a locally sourced dehydrated fruit product, which he would sell on-island as well as in his home state of California.
“I wanted to find a way to use all of the fruit that can go to waste on the island, we’ve got so much of it,” Ruiz-Romero said. “ Then Lourdes brought me this idea of adding crickets to the fruit.”
He wasn’t sure at first but he kept an open mind and Torres convinced him the idea would work.
Now, they’re anticipating a grand opening at their storefront in mid-January and hope to eventually expand the business to locations in California and New York, using the same model.
In addition to participating in the KEDB’s business plan competition; the partners have set up a Kickstarter, an online platform where people can donate money.
“We want to lead by example and have healthy options, centered around superfoods with ingredients farmed sustainably,” Torres said.