EntoCube is a company offering the world a solution for high quality protein by offering technology to farm insects. Their current technology has the ability to produce controlled atmosphere shipping containers of various sizes that can be operated manually to farm food-grade insects.
Secretary General by day and co-founder of EntoCube by night, Janne Koskenniemi has been working in student advocacy and political organizations for quite some time. Janne is in charge of media affairs and social media for EntoCube, but he also takes care of the crickets and does other crazy and fun stuff with the rest of the crew.
Janne joined the team last summer because he liked the idea of doing something significant and earth-saving as well as doing his part for the food revolution. He adds that the guys in the team are really awesome too!
EBF: How did you become interested in entomophagy?
Janne: Everyone in our core team has different stories on how they became interested and involved with entomophagy. Robert was an astronaut candidate and he used to ponder the problems of getting and growing protein in space. One of the biggest challenges in deep space travel is sending people to Mars, but not being able to give them enough food for two years. That’s where insects come into the picture.
Otto and Perttu are both enthusiastic cooks and travellers. They both encountered insect eating during their travels in Asia and wanted to bring the practice back to Finland. Jaakko has a long background in food R&D and he became involved with insects through his work in the UNFAO. Nowadays, he leads and researches projects concentrated on studying the use of insects as feed and food.
The rest of the crew are also interested in solving the problems of world hunger and making the culinary revolution happen. You could say that the common denominator is the zest to solve big problems and conquer a whole new field in the food industry.
How does the EntoCube work?
For insects the most crucial thing is the microclimate inside the container. Different species grow better in different climates so in order to go from farming one insect species to another, you need start with adjusting the microclimate. Changing the microclimate to basically any insects’ needs is of course possible.
Species also differ in how they behave, reproduce and what they eat. We have been honing our processes of rearing, feeding and harvesting with European house crickets. Changing to another species would mean studying the behaviour of the species and streamlining the existing process.
In the future we are looking to experiment with different kinds of species, but at the moment concentrating on house crickets is the best option.
How long did it take to develop the EntoCube?
Our initial 10 foot container was made by our CEO, Robert, who worked with his father to build the first version of EntoCube. Sounds simple, but to get a container ready to work as a cricket farm needs meticulous planning. Luckily, Robert is an excellent engineer and he knows his way around the workshop: I can’t even imagine the amount of hours he spent on planning and building the first version. The first version has been sold now and we operate from our 40 foot long EntoCube.
You could say that in this kind of developing industry, you’re never ready. We are building new things and experimenting all the time. That’s how you keep going forward and that’s how you succeed in a developing market.
How can the EntoCube help feed people in developing countries?
The key problem in developing countries is the lack of easy-to-get protein which can be produced with very limited resources. To produce a one kilogram of protein from cattle, you need about 20 kg of feed and 1,500 litres of water. The numbers for the same amount of cricket protein are 1.7 kg of feed and only a litre of water.
In Central America alone, 40% of deforestation is caused by cattle farming. Meat production also uses 8 times more fossil fuel energy to produce the same amount of protein as opposed to that of grains. EntoCube doesn’t damage the soil and one 10 foot long EntoCube uses about 5 kWh per day. EntoCube also offers an employment solution, since you can sell the unused crickets or produce cricket powder.
Basically we are offering an efficient, ecological and low-energy solution to produce protein anywhere you want.
How can eating insects help eliminate bio-waste?
We used the salad-waste from a local student restaurant to feed the crickets in our 10 foot EntoCube. That cuts down the waste coming from preparing the salads almost to nothing. Previously, all the outer leaves of salad, stubs and the remainders of carrots and cucumbers were put into the waste bin. Many insect species can eat basically anything containing water, so using insects to get rid of bio-waste is a promising solution.
How many EntoCubes have you sold or donated so far?
Currently we have sold one container and we are looking to sell a couple more during the spring of 2016. There are a lot of interested people and organizations. We are expecting a boom in the market when the legislation changes in the EU so we are putting our energy into developing the automation in the meantime.
Who are your main customers for cricket powder?
Currently the customers for cricket powder consist of insect enthusiasts and people who value ecological and healthy food. Also the fitness and sports scene has shown interest for cricket powder and the products made of cricket powder. The reason behind this is that the powder and products are rich in protein.
The food industry is also showing a growing interest for cricket powder. Replacing the contemporary flours with cricket powder is an easy way to increase the protein content of products like chips, cakes and breads.
How have you found ways to lower the cost of cricket powder?
In Europe the most important way to decrease the costs of cricket powder is to eliminate the labour used to rear and harvest the crickets. We are doing this by streamlining the whole process and automating it. Automating cuts down the personnel costs and thus affects the price. We are also finding ways to make the whole rearing process less time-consuming even without automation.
What have been the greatest challenges?
The greatest but also the most motivating challenge is that the whole industry is so new and developing. There are no ready-made solutions for anything. There’s so many possibilities that you have to be really focused to not waste the time and money you have. Of course the legislation regarding selling insects as food in the EU has been a challenge also, but the awesome entomophagy scene has been doing a really good job in promoting and lobbying for the change.
One could also say that changing the mindset of people about eating insects has been a challenge. Some people might have some doubts when trying insect dishes, but a lot of those people come back for more after they’ve gotten the first bite.
What is the next step for EntoCube?
We are currently raising money to get the resources to go full steam ahead with automating the container. We have been going forward with the money of our co-founders, but to be able to make the leap we need to get some outside funding also. After that we are going to go step-by-step to make the world’s first automated factory.