Hargol FoodTech is the first company in the world to grow commercial quantities of grasshoppers in climate controlled facilities. We want to address the inevitable challenge of access to protein, which will intensify in the coming years – global demand for protein is actually expected to double by 2050.
I am a serial entrepreneur for food and nutrition – this is my third start-up in this sector. I learned about malnutrition challenges in sub-saharan Africa while working on my previous start-up, Plate my Meal
, which focused on obesity prevention. It is while brainstorming about a solution to this malnutrition challenge that I came across grasshoppers as an alternative source of protein.
I believe that grasshoppers are the most valuable protein source provided by nature. Meat is extremely resource intensive and plant-based proteins require a lot of processing. Grasshoppers on the other hand have a tendency to swarm together, which makes them very well suited for intensive farming. They also have a 72% protein content, contain all essential amino acids and do not have saturated fat. Furthermore, they are vegetarian so are high in nutritional value.
Grasshoppers are a delicacy in many countries across Africa, Asia and Central America. They have a neutral taste – the way you cook them is the way they taste, which makes them very versatile in the kitchen.
Grasshoppers are actually the most widely eaten insects in the world- 1 billion people consume them daily. About 5 years ago the insect protein market was about close to $0 in Europe and in the USA. Last year, the market in the USA went up to 100 million dollars, and is predicted to go to 1 billion dollars in 5 years. The demand is now much higher than supply.
You recently raised substantial funding – can you share some of your milestones towards this success? Any learnings?
We have many insights to share! For our first 3 years, Dror worked around Israel trying to get attention from investors, experts, consumers. Most of the people we spoke thought our idea was weird or ‘too exotic’. People were willing to meet me, but did not engage further. This started to change about a year ago, for I believe the three following reasons.
1. We learned how to tell our story: In one accelerator program we took part in, we spent a whole month only practicing pitching with experts. Pitching is a critical skill. From my experience, it takes at least 60 practices to get your pitch right.
Once we got the story right, we applied to competitions. It took us some time to learn about how to apply the best way – about 1.5 years in the process we were shortlisted for pitching for the first time. Quickly after that, we won 4 competitions within 2 weeks. It is critical to get your story right, and to improve it every time.
2. The perception on insect protein changed: In the last few years a lot more awareness was raised around the idea of eating insects as an alternative source of protein. This of course made us much more interesting in the food industry and facilitated our marketing efforts.
3. We started our PR strategy early: It is a mistake to wait for a product to be ready before talking to the media – startups should start selling the dream before their product is ready. In 2.5 years, we gathered around 250 media items (TV, newspaper) in 20 different languages, also in some major publication (Forbes, The Economist, Financial Times, TechCrunch…). We updated our story for each reporter.
My advice is to have someone on the team specialized in business development and marketing, and to pursue that alongside product development, NOT one after the other. The market will not wait for your product to be ready.
What is an unexpected challenge that you have faced so far?
Many entrepreneurs are young, and still single. This is not our case – all of us have wives and children. We soon realized that when starting a company, the entire family is dragged into the adventure. That is the biggest challenge: your family does not see the money coming for a few years and lives through the failures and disappointments with you. And once we reach a success, they are often too tired to celebrate.