Crickets are good for the planet, requiring just 1 gallon of water per pound of protein produced. Compare this to the 2500 gallons needed for a pound of beef protein, 800 for pork, and even 368 for vegetable-based protein. They’re also good for humans, bringing 15% more iron than spinach, 1.5x more calcium than milk, and twice the protein of beef to the table.
Bring on the cricket revolution!
Ogunte: What are four words that best describe you?
Megan: Bold, opinionated, compassionate, and curious.
Ogunte: When and how did you discover the wonders of eating crickets?
Megan: The first time I ever experienced edible insects was in Mexico, in the state of Oaxaca, as a tasty salt served on top of a cocktail. When I asked the waiter what was in it, he replied in Spanish: ‘Gusanos.’ I said: ‘Gusanos? Doesn’t that mean worms?’ He lit up: ‘Si! Worms!’ I looked into it and it’s true! They grind toasted worms into a powder with chilli and salt, and it has a really nice umami flavour.
But it was later, travelling in Thailand and Cambodia, when I had the experience that inspired me to start Bitty Foods. I’m a curious eater and an avid foodie, so I tasted all sorts of things from street food stands, including crickets. I also discovered these delicious fried bamboo worms that have a beautiful texture, sort of like a corn chip - light, crispy and delicious!
I stumbled upon a farmers’ market in Bangkok that was entirely made up of insect stalls. Each stall had different insects: some of them were already prepared, others were live, in buckets. People were buying them the way you would buy vegetables at the market to take home and cook.
I was so curious that I went back to my hotel room and started doing some research online about insects. I wondered whether they had health benefits and why people were eating them. I was fascinated with the idea that insects are eaten in some cultures, but completely not in other cultures, like ours. I wanted to know why.
I found out that edible insects are one of the most eco-friendly sources of protein on the planet. I also discovered that researchers at a university in the Netherlands were working with the UN on a report about the potential effects of edible insects on the global food system, if eating insects were scaled up to a global level.
When I came home, I started socialising the idea with my friends, asking: ‘What if we all started eating insects, and we saved the world?!’ To the extent that they sort of peer-pressured me into actually trying it. They said, ‘You know, you’re gonna have to put your money where your mouth is and start cooking edible insects.’ So I did.
My friend Leslie and I experimented in the kitchen, and she ended up being my co-founder. She’s a curious foodie too, and also a stellar businesswoman who has a lot of experience launching start-ups.
Ogunte: Were you scared or doubtful at any point at the beginning?
Megan: Oh definitely! I had to do a lot of soul-searching: Do I really want to do this? People are going to think I’m a crazy bug lady. Is that how I want to evolve the next chapter of my career? Is that how I want to be known? But I decided that what others would think isn’t that important.
Honestly, what happened was so crazy. Early on, when we were still conceptualising the business and planning our products, I pitched a talk to TEDx Manhattan about edible insects as a food source and as a potential food system stabilizer. After I was accepted, I was picked up by all this media. I went from just having a crazy idea to being in Vogue magazine and The New York Times! Suddenly, I didn’t feel so crazy.
I think if I’d struggled for a long time at the beginning, and had a lot of people telling me it was a dumb idea, it would have been more daunting, but I was lucky to have some early, very positive feedback that gave me confidence.
So, I gave the talk, and brought some cookies that I’d made with me. They were not for sale, but people really liked them, and the press picked up on these ‘cricket cookies’. There was a rush of inbound interest from people who wanted to buy the cookies – we thought ‘Oh my God, they don’t exist yet!’ We had to throw together everything really fast, from our health department certifications to our baking staff, so we could start actually producing and shipping these cookies! So, we sort of stumbled into cookies as our first product just because of the demand for them after that event.
Ogunte: How much of the supply chain did you have to set up yourselves?
Megan: (laughs) Everything! Interestingly, the paper put out by the UN Food and Agriculture organisation spurred a lot of people into trying this out. We found that there were a bunch of cricket farms starting up just when we were looking to buy the ingredients. There was just enough of a supply chain to support our very small cookie production. But then, as we grew, we had to find more crickets!
It’s been very funny. The supply chain has been sort of growing alongside the consumer demand and the retail growth.
Ogunte: Where do they farm crickets?
Megan: There’s a number of cricket farms in the US and Canada– there’s a big one in Austin, and in Ontario. There were already farms in the US growing crickets for use as fishing bait and reptile feed, before this whole edible insects movement started. So, luckily, there was some institutional knowledge nearby. Some of those farmers actually slipped over into producing crickets as food for humans. And then, of course, in South East Asia there are a huge number of insect farms – there are 20,000 cricket farms in Thailand alone!
Ogunte: Wow! What is the biggest challenge facing Bitty Foods right now?
Megan: We’re still in the phase of convincing mainstream consumers that this is something that needs to happen. I just saw a report that said that 9% of Americans are aware of crickets as a food. That seems sooooo small! But then again, America is a really big country with 300 million people – so 9% is the size of some smaller countries. Still, we have a long, long way to go. This is still very much a niche segment, there’s a lot of education to work on.
Ogunte: What are your secrets to a successful business partnership with your co-founder?
Megan: Leslie and I are both very honest and open communicators – that’s one of the most important things. In practice, this means addressing any issues that come up in real time, and not letting any drama happen, basically. I think this is really important. You have to be very up front and frank with each other, because you’re not always going to agree - it’s actually really good to have differing opinions, you just need to have an effective way of communicating in place.
The other secret is knowing what your weaknesses are, and hiring to fill in those missing competencies. Leslie and I both have similar skill sets, with backgrounds in strategy and the creative side of business. Managing day to day logistics and operations are not really either of our fortes.
We knew when we first started that we were probably doing things in an inefficient way, and that we needed to find someone with a strong background in the food industry. Essentially, we needed a ‘grown-up’! Hans has been with us for two or three years now, bringing over a decade’s experience in food distribution to Bitty Foods. He makes sure our supply chain is efficient and geographically clustered to minimize shipping, which is faster and better for the environment.
Ogunte: When do you find it hard to be confident?
Megan: I still don’t love asking for money. I think that’s pretty common – especially for women. I’ve read that women don’t have as much confidence as men when it comes to asking for raises and things like that. It’s something I need to do.
When I speak to investors, I feel very confident talking about the values of my company and why we’re worth investing in, but when it comes down to the hard ask, my heart beats really fast!
I think it gets easier with practice. I try to push away the negative thoughts and just do it, like you have to do in sports. I grew up doing a lot of horseriding and, when you’re coming up to a jump, you might be nervous but you can’t let the horse know that or it’ll get freaked - you just have to push those nervous thoughts out of your mind and go for it. I try to bring that approach into business when it comes to asking for money, and just will myself to do it.
Mentors have advised me to reframe it positively in my mind. They say: ‘What you’re doing is giving people an opportunity. You have to frame it so that you’re inviting them to be a part of something that’s really important and special: this is an opportunity for them, not you asking them for something that you need.’ It’s something you have to keep learning, I think.
Ogunte: Have mentors been very important in Bitty’s history?
Megan: Definitely. There are things that are common across different businesses. But when it comes to the specifics of your industry, it’s especially good to find people who’ve walked ahead of you, and who have contacts and smart advice. You would just be reinventing the wheel if you didn’t reach out and find smart people who have experience to mentor you.
Ogunte: How do you go about finding those smart people to help you?
Megan: Well, I don’t ever just reach out to people cold. It’s about building a strong network. You build it gradually: maybe you find one great person who makes an introduction, then maybe you find a good supportive group. I belong to several different groups – one is for women in food (mostly chefs and entrepreneurs), another one is for Bay area food producers, another is for women in business.
For me, building a network is about socialising, getting out there and talking to people regularly. People are always willing to make connections for you if they meet you, but it does help to have warm introductions.
Ogunte: If you could time-travel and talk to yourself when you were starting out, what would you say?
Megan: I’m gonna piggyback on my last answer, and say I would tell myself to reach out and find help earlier on. It probably took me a little too long to find those mentors and those groups.
For a while, it was just myself and Leslie furiously scouring the Internet together, when what we really needed to do was get out there - go to conferences, meet people, and start building our network.
Networking is such a corporate and lame-sounding term, but really it’s just making human connections, making friends, and finding people who have done what you’re doing, or something close to it, who can share information. Super valuable.
Ogunte: Was it a confidence issue or that you didn’t realise it would be a good idea?
Megan: No, I’m pretty gregarious, I just don’t think I knew what I needed yet. It took me a matter of months and a little bit of exploration to figure out what were the right questions to even ask.
Ogunte: Who inspires you?
Megan: I’m inspired by women I meet who are achieving a really good work-life balance. When they’re really ambitious in advancing their careers and work with fascinating ideas, and have a family. I’m at the stage of my life where I have a young family, I have a two-year-old at home and I’m 7 months pregnant with my second.
One of my previous bosses, a mentor of mine, was a senior executive at a big multi-national company, and she has four children. She was very skilled at balancing her work life and her home life. She would sit in meetings, asking the tough questions and analysing numbers on a spreadsheet or in a presentation, while holding her newborn. And then, she would turn to her child and be able to give them her full attention. It was that ability to switch so effectively that I found so impressive and inspiring.
It’s so important to have a partner or spouse who’s super supportive; who’s interested in and competent at being an equal parent. Together you figure out how you can continue to be out in the world doing interesting things and still include your children. I took my son to conference when he was 10 weeks old and I flew by myself across the country to a conference in Detroit.
I think it’s good to inspire other women that it is possible. It’s good to be onstage giving a talk, when you’re big and pregnant, or take your newborn with you to events. It helps people understand what’s possible.
Ogunte: That sounds like a challenge!
Megan: It is - and it’s not. It’s just something new to get used to!
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