Crickets are the new kale, or so the people behind burgeoning startup Exo would like to think. Today the company that brought the world cricket protein bars announced it's closed a $4 million round of Series A funding. Ponying up the cash to help propel this insect protein company forward is an intriguing bunch of investors that includes rap legend Nas, endurance athlete Amelia Boone, and Tim Ferriss, the guy who wrote The 4-Hour Workweek and various other self-help books.
Exo already raised more than a million dollars when it launched in 2014, bringing its total financing to $5.6 million — not bad for a company that makes food out of bugs most of us have squished under our shoe at one time or another. The fresh influx of cash will be put toward a national retail expansion plan, ramping up production, and expanding Exo's product line.
Exo initially launched with protein bars made from organic ground crickets in flavors like Blueberry Vanilla and Cocoa Nut; late last year it added savory protein bars that come in flavors like Mango Curry and Barbecue. Now, "We’ve developed a bunch of different products that use the cricket protein in various functions," co-founder Greg Sewitz tells Eater. He's not ready to spill the beans just yet, promising only that they'll be "other products that consumers already eat." (A cricket-based protein powder that gym rats can use to make their own bug-based post-workout shakes sounds likely, though.)
The company's website touts the many benefits of crickets as a sustainable protein: Aside from being higher in protein than both beef jerky and eggs, they also have more than twice the iron of spinach. But perhaps more important is the stated environmental impact; crickets produce 100 times less greenhouse gases than cows.
When it comes to eating bugs, it seems America's simply behind the curve. According to Exo, 80 percent of the world eats insects on a regular basis. Sewitz knows that convincing people to actually try crickets is the company's biggest hurdle: "Our biggest challenge here is convincing consumers that eating crickets make sense and that it’s a respectable thing to do," he says.
Having a Michelin-starred chef in its arsenal should certainly help Exo's well-financed attempt to push crickets from a weird novelty item to a staple food: Its team includes Kyle Connaughton, the former R&D chef at Heston Blumenthal's hallowed The Fat Duck who just opened a trailblazing California restaurant called Single Thread.
Exo's desire to take crickets mainstream is also why they've actively sought out partnerships with influencers. "Typically we go after athletes and fitness gurus and lifestyle hackers and chefs but really anyone who has clout is valuable," Sewitz says. (Having a hiphop icon on their investment team certainly won't hurt, either.) Exo is also wisely seeking to get its products placed in gyms and CrossFit centers. "Having it trickle down from the early adopter community into the mass consumer movement is how it will retain its credibility and hopefully have people trumpeting the message," Sewitz says. If he has it his way, every gym bag and lunch box in America will soon contain a dose of Exo's protein-packed cricket products.
Watch Sewitz explain why eating crickets might just save the planet, below: