Entoview with Steak TzarTzar

Not many of us can say that we played a significant part in the start of an idea or concept that shapes the way the world works. Even for those in the right place at the right time, such as for the web innovators of Silicon Valley in the 90s, the next leap forward is often an unexpected one. As many are now beginning to realise, global population growth and food security issues have forced us to the cusp of a new agricultural revolution – only this time, everyone sees it coming.

Dror Tamir is a serial food and nutrition entrepreneur. His passion is improving the health of children and families through better nutrition. He has held varied positions within several Israeli and international companies over the last 16 years after a career at the Israeli Navy Budget Department.

Dror is the CEO & co-founder at Steak TzarTzar, a start-up company co-founded with Ben Friedman and Chanan Aviv, dedicated to the development and production of alternative protein ingredients from edible grasshoppers.

Steak TzarTzar
Dror Tamir, Ben Friedman & Chanan Aviv

EBF: How did you discover entomophagy?

Dror: Steak TzarTzar was born out of a previous start-up I had called Plate my Meal, dedicated to healthy food for children and families. While developing the market I learned about the lack of protein in populations around the globe and due to some manufacturing challenges I had enough free time to think of potential solutions. I realised that insects are the solution and assembled a team of experts to tackle the issue.

We started collecting and acclimatising a variety of insects and also held tasting events with people from potential markets in Africa and Asia. We learned from the events and from market research we did that grasshoppers have the greatest potential both in African and Asian markets as well as being a healthy, sustainable and efficient protein source for North America and Europe.

The first time I had a chance to taste a grasshopper was on our first tasting event in front of CNN cameras. I was sure I played it cool and smiled all the way… until I saw the photos! The insects report issued by the FAO in 2013 that has become the bible of the insect industry gave us a lot of back wind to support our efforts.

All three founders of Steak TzarTzar share the same vision of making this world a better place for our children by improving their health through better nutrition. It took us minutes from the moment we met to understand we found the right partners to take this vision to the next step.

Is eating insects popular in Israel? How has the public responded to your company?

Eating insects in Israel is not popular, although it is making its way back through reality shows such as Survivor and The Million Dollar Race where competitors are challenged to eat insects. About 60-70 years ago, when the Jewish people gathered from all over the globe, some populations that came from Yemen and Morocco brought with them the tradition of eating grasshoppers. During the 1950’s when food was scarce, they used to go out to the fields and collect them.

Israelis and also some Palestinians enjoyed locust swarms in those years. The locust is called “Jarad” in Arabic and some Israeli Arabs are still considering them as a delicacy. But the general response is the same as in the Western World: ‘Yuck’, but I must add that surprisingly many are willing to taste them – mostly women! The men usually hide or quietly leave the room.

As much as Israelis are not so open to eat grasshoppers, they are excited about the concept of the company and find it very promising. One more Israeli angle to it is the fact that only grasshoppers can be kosher (or Halal) according to the bible and we are collaborating with several professors to make sure that one of the species that we grow will receive the kosher certificate. We all know the story of the ancient Hebrews crossing the desert on their way from Egypt and being saved by eating grasshoppers.

What is your solution to helping people overcome “the yuck factor”?

For the Western world we see only one solution – processing of the insects into a protein ingredient and combining it into protein and food applications. Marketing-wise, we believe that the story should be about healthier, more sustainable and affordable protein.

Steak TzarTzar Protein Powder

Are there any other obstacles in your business?

Regulation is the key. This is the reason we do not focus on the EU market at this point in time. Another challenge is fundraising as most Israeli investors find the insect industry too exotic. The challenge for us is to reach North American and Asian investors who show much more interest in this developing field.

I must add that grasshoppers are not food for the poor. They are a super food and contain a superior nutrient content. They are considered a national delicacy in countries all over the world: in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Central America.

You have two different markets: whole insects for the East and powder for the West. Do you think this will change in time?

Edible Grasshoppers
Edible Grasshoppers

We do address two different markets: in the West we plan to provide protein ingredients and do not have any plans to sell whole grasshoppers in the near future. I believe that Westerners are getting farther away from the food chain and are enjoying the option of not knowing where their beef, poultry, dairy or eggs come from. When you ask a toddler where it all comes from, the common answer is “the supermarket”.

To change things back, it’s not about insects alone, but about the entire food industry changing its behaviour and starting to produce healthier and more sustainable products as well as reconnecting humanity to the sources of food.

Are athletes your main clients? What other types of people are interested in your products?

We believe athletes are the early adapters of the protein ingredient market. Remember Sylvester Stallone (Rocky I) in his small apartment in Philly eating raw eggs at 5am? Besides them, we see more and more people interested in healthier and sustainable foods, and more that are willing to try insect protein as a new exciting alternative – just see the success of the Paleo diet!

What flavours do your protein shakes come in?

Steak TzarTzar is not only about protein shakes, but the low fat content provides us with a relatively neutral taste which can complement almost any flavour. I like to dream of a strawberry grasshopper shake!

What is Steak TzarTzar’s next big challenge?

Steak TzarTzar scaled up its farm and expect to initiate sales of protein powders in North America in the coming month. Our next goal is to penetrate the North American market and compete with cricket powder providers over there.

You can find out more about Dror and Steak TzarTzar through media links on their website or by following their progress on Twitter and Facebook.