An interview with Michi Abe, founder of Abundance Food
A healthy energy boost before a run, after the gym, or even at your desk. This is the concept that inspired Michi Abe, founder of Abundance Food, to launch the ProPro energy bar last year from the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. ProPro packs a protein punch unlike any other insect protein bar on the market: each bar is at least 20% cricket flour by weight. That’s more than 200 crickets per bar – the highest percentage in the market. Way higher than the famous American cricket bars, which are usually below 10% cricket content (sometimes below 5%). With this competitive advantage, ProPro shows the key difference in sourcing the cricket flour in a country, Thailand, where the cost is up to 5 times lower than in North America. We interviewed Michi about his experience developing the ProPro bar and the future of the edible insect industry.
Could you talk about your decision to make an energy bar as the center of Abundance Food’s edible insect product line?
ProPro bars really came about organically from my own frustration with finding a healthy bar made without a lot of artificial or processed ingredients. I think bars are a great form factor that are convenient and also allow for a lot of creativity in terms of flavors and ingredients. We felt that the nutritional and environmental benefits would be most appreciated by those who enjoy an active and healthy lifestyle already, and that meant bars which can be eaten quickly and easily before a run or the gym or even at your desk when healthy options aren’t easily available.
What makes ProPro different from other energy bars using insect proteins?
ProPro strives not to just have insects as a novelty ingredient. Crickets constitutes solidly 20% or more of our bars, that’s more than 200 crickets per bar and that alone makes ProPro unusual. On top of that, we have no added sugar, syrups, fillers or artificial ingredients. We’re big on minimally processed foods and we develop products with an ingredients list people can read and understand. That’s why we use just seeds, nuts, oats, fruit and of course crickets!
Does your product development involve consumer testing? If yes, what have been your takeaways on consumer responses to edible insect foods?
Yes, we’ve had a number of focus groups and surveys in Thailand and abroad. While its been received very positively in general, there’s been relatively more resistance from Thais eating insects and we found few are eating them on a regular basis. Among westerners, most have at least heard about the benefits of edible insects somewhere and were eager for the opportunity to try. What was interesting was for the few who couldn’t or wouldn’t try ProPro, the obstacles were other dietary restrictions like being vegan or gluten free rather than a general aversion to eating insects per say.
Why do you think the crickets represent the most common choice for edible insect products geared towards Western markets? If you imagine new products made with cricket flour, what would they be?
I think crickets are much easier to market and have the broadest potential appeal. They’re kind of cute and familiar (like the character Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio) and are less intimidating than more wormy insects. In terms of potential products, I’d like to see more products that take advantage of the unique nutritional properties of crickets to cater to specific demographics. For example, the elderly and those who are averse to eating traditional livestock may find getting the right balance of nutrients elsewhere challenging, and crickets have a lot to offer there.
Edible insects are making their entry into Western markets, and there’s been a lot of talk about the different values that insects can offer for Western consumers (sustainability, high protein, etc.) What do you see as the opportunities and challenges for the expansion of edible insects in the West?
I think one of the challenges will be developing a range of dishes and foods that have been created from scratch to really bring out the best flavors and textures of insects. At the moment, they’re often a garnish, or a meat/protein substitute. I think edible insects will really come into their own once chefs and food scientists are really able to maximize the unique qualities of insects in cuisine and this is a great opportunity for creativity.
In general, what do you think is the ‘next thing’ for edible insect food innovation?
I think it will be advances in farming and a better understanding of how best to optimize raising insects at scale. When prices start to come down, it will hopefully bring more innovation and interest to the space and let more and more people give this too often overlooked food group a try.
This interview originally published by Food Navigator Asia edition here. June 2017