One Hop Kitchen: Brand Engagement Gets Bug-gy

There’s a huge taboo, a sort of societal, cultural thing that prevents us from thinking of insects as food but even the UN has promoted insects in the food category. Ultimately bugs are a protein-rich dish with minimal impact on the planet. 

Savage caught up with Eli and Lee Cadesky, two brothers from Toronto, Canada, and founders of One Hop Kitchen and C-fu FOODS INC, who literally put worms in your food. Lee was inspired early on by his thesis work on food proteins and began experimenting with texturing insects into meat substitutes to create the first textured insect protein prototype.

Lee and Eli have since founded C-fu FOODS INC, an ingredient company that supplies innovative protein powders and meat substitutes from crickets and mealworms. They hired an experienced chef to develop a classic Bolognese sauce with a sustainable twist-textured cricket and mealworm protein that replaced ground beef and pork saving up to 300 L of water per serving by displacing a meat option. 

S: What goes into the research and production of your ingredients?

LC: Research and development of our products looks much like a typical food lab, except that our raw materials are crickets and mealworms. When we started out, we scavenged for lab equipment in Cornell’s dumpsters and managed to collect enough to start a fairly sophisticated lab. Our production is much like any other product. We work in a commercial kitchen in Toronto and manufacture all of our products ourselves, from bug to Bolognese. It’s a lot of hard labour and long hours in a hot kitchen but it’s worth it to maintain high product quality and brand authenticity.

S: Consumers are increasingly aware of ingredients that are harmful to them like aspartame, corn syrup, MSG, etc.

a. How do you overcome factors like fear, perception, assumption, and mis-information? 

EC: We make sure to use ingredients that are wholesome and familiar to consumers. Our pasta sauces from One Hop Kitchen are all soy, dairy, and gluten free, and contain no added sugar. This was important to us during formulation and because of the way we’re able to texture insect proteins, we don’t need a lot of artificial ingredients.  

For us, number 1 is making food taste great! As part of that too, we process our insects to look like familiar meat sources. With One Hop Kitchen, we market our sauce on a blind tasting between the beef, cricket, and mealworm Bolognese. Because the insects aren’t visible, consumers can’t tell which is which and they let their taste buds decide which is best. Most are surprised to find they prefer the cricket or mealworm version to beef so we know we’re doing something right! Tasting is believing, and it’s the best way to help consumers get over fears about eating insects.

b. What was your initial experience when thinking of worms and crickets as a food source?

LC: My first experience was at a Mexican bar in Seattle on a road trip. They had chapulines (roasted grasshoppers) on the menu for $2 and I had heard a lot about the insect-food movement so it seemed worth a try. They were really good! It got me thinking a lot about what this sector could offer. I started research on texturizing insect proteins as soon as I got back home. 

S: Insect protein burgers and meal worm Bolognese sauce is definitely for the adventurous at heart; how do you develop brand loyalty and grow the community?

EC: The first step is making a product that tastes better than a traditional beef-based sauce, it really is that simple. Make a better product, make sure the consumer has convinced themselves of this truth, then remind them of this truth and use the environmental and health benefits as your supporting cast. We also like to showcase multiple uses for our pasta sauces from One Hop Kitchen. I use tomato sauce for more than just making spaghetti. Our cricket or mealworm Bolognese make a great high protein pizza sauce, dip, or with some beans and extra spices a really hearty chili!

“Make a better product, make sure the consumer has convinced themselves of this truth, then remind them of this truth.”

S: What is your message to FMCG companies like P&G and Unilever who need to look at alternate protein sources to promote green living?

LC: Consider insects! There’s a real movement going on here and consumers are more open minded than they’ve ever been. There’s tremendous opportunity to innovate with insects and create the next generation of green protein products that will engage and capture consumer interest. In 1 year of working with sample groups for C-fu FOODS and One Hop Kitchen we’ve already seen a huge shift in consumer recognition of edible insects. People are aware and ready to try it. With support from large food companies we could market to wider audiences and have the purchasing power we’d need to bring the costs of these products down to reach an even larger consumer base.

One Hop Kitchen products are now available online and soon in select retailers in the United States and Canada. Products will also be sampled at Food Matters Live in London, England on November 22-24 2016.

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