A lot of people have been waiting for a new food source, they just didn’t know what it was.
As Pat Crowley, founder of Chapul, held his first cricket up to his mouth, he squirmed. It was a psychological barrier, one he knew that was nothing more than a creation of culture, and one he knew he needed to get over. So he popped the cricket it. “I was surprised,” Crowley says. “It was good. It tastes just like popcorn.”
No, Crowley didn’t lose a bet and no, he was not a Fear Factor contestant. He was just a guy concerned with the sustainability of earth’s water recourses. For good reason. Currently we as a human species are taking and using more groundwater than we have available to us. Much of that water is used in agriculture, so in order to reduce our water consumption and ensure that future generations have an adequate supply of water, we need to start changing the way we eat.
Crowley was aware of the water sustainability problem, but he wasn’t aware of the solution. Until one day he heard a Ted Talk about eating insects, a far more efficient source of energy that requires far less water to grow and harvest than traditional agriculture. Crowley had found the solution to our water sustainability problem. But with that solution came another problem: convincing Americans it’s okay to eat bugs.
When it comes to food, we ‘muricans need a slow, dip our feet in, feel the water, make sure it’s safe and not disgusting introduction. Sushi chefs gave us the California roll first, with the rice on the outside, because we were afraid of sea weed. Then, once we all realized that Sushi is transcendent manna from heaven above, the chefs were free to feed us all the seaweed and raw fish in the world.
Crowley and his company are following a similar model for cricket consumption. “We’re trying to make it easy for people,” Crowley says. Part of making it easy means removing the visual aspects of the insects. So the Chapul teams grinds the crickets into a flour and uses the flour in their energy bars. They also recently started selling protein powder.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign and making the rounds at local farmers markets, Crowley appeared on Shark Tank in March of 2014. He walked away with a $50,000 investment from Mark Cuban, and an agreement that Cuban would fund all purchase orders and only require repayment once Chapul was paid by the buyers. This agreement has helped Chapul avoid cash flow stress and keep up with production.
Chapul currently produces around 30,000 bars a month and just last week launched into distribution with the largest natural foods distributor in the country. As it turns out, Crowley isn’t the only one that realizes we have a sustainability issue on our collective hands. “A lot of people have been waiting for a new food source, they just didn’t know what it was,” Crowley says. Those people can thank Crowley for making waves in the food industry, all from a grassroots beginning in a tiny Salt Lake City Kitchen. “We’re creating an international movement,” Crowley says. “It’s been fun to put it on the map.”