About five years ago, Sarah Schlafly was in search of a protein source she could feel good about — one that was less taxing on the environment to produce than meat and better for her body.
She soon landed on insect protein. More specifically, crickets.
“The more research I did, the more I learned about how people around the world consumed insects,” she said. “So I thought, ‘Okay, how am I going to eat a bug?’”The St. Louis native said she began eating crickets in a powdered form so that she wouldn’t see the body parts of the cricket as she ingested it.
“I quickly got over the psychological barrier . . . and then I thought, ‘What if I could make products [with cricket powder] that look like ordinary products that Americans are used to?’” she said.
That’s how her company, Mighty Cricket, was born.
Schlafly said she’s always been interested in entrepreneurship, so the idea of beginning a business that sells cricket-infused food was a natural next step. She said she knew she wanted a co-founder who would “shoot down my bad ideas, support my good ones and overall keep me on track.” But she didn’t know how she would find that business-partner-to-be.
“I was looking to meet people because I had just moved back to St. Louis [in 2017], and someone told me I should use the Bumble app,” she said. On that app, she met Mighty Cricket co-founder Adam Kronk.
Kronk satisfied a lot of attributes Schlafly was looking for in a co-founder — he had a background in molecular biology, he was science-literate and he had earned an MBA from Washington University.
Once they met and began talking, Schlafly proposed the business idea to him. They launched their line of cricket-protein products in September 2018 after just under a year of planning and seeking financial backing.
“So we source the crickets, and then we do the processing — turning them into oatmeal, pancake and waffle mix, and our protein powder,” Schlafly said.
“Over the last 18 months or so, we’ve really just expanded,” Kronk said.
Schlafly originally sourced her cricket powder from a farm in Canada. Now she buys the powder mainly from two farms in Missouri. In the past, she also has bought the powder from cricket farms in both Thailand and Malaysia, which have “perfect” climates to raise crickets sustainably.
She combines the cricket powder with her products and packages those goods at Old North Provisions in North St. Louis, where urban-farming company Good Life Growing uses aquaponic, hydroponic, aeroponic and other organic farming methods in order to produce local food year round.
The pair sells their products on Amazon, through their own website and in three St. Louis stores: Local Harvest, New Dawn and Old North Provisions.
And soon, you might find Mighty Cricket dishes on local menus.
“The restaurants are intrigued, and we just started the restaurant push — it’s all a matter of timing because chefs are so busy. It seems like the few I’ve talked to [so far] are interested,” Schlafly said.
Kronk and Schlafly bootstrapped their business with $6,000 — $2,000 of their own money and a $4,000 line of credit from an angel investor, the latter of which they’ve spent half. Schlafly said their company had made about $5,000 in revenue, as of early August.
“We right now are in the process of going for our first seed round [of investment], and the goal of that will be to invest in marketing and working on our next [addition], which will be ready-made products,” Schlafly said.
The pair noted that consumer research is critical in knowing how to market their unconventional product in a way that encourages first-time buyers to give it a try.
Schlafly said they launched Mighty Cricket products at farmers’ markets and other sampling opportunities in order to listen to people’s responses to the company’s messaging. What have they learned? Schlafly said consumers love to hear about the Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin B12 found naturally in crickets, along with the sustainability of producing the crickets.
“We found that about one in two people who passed by are willing to try it, and once they try it . . . everyone says it doesn’t taste like cricket. A very small portion of people still have a psychological barrier to continue eating the product.”
“Crickets take very little input to grow — a little water and a little space, [you] simply harvest by mimicking their natural hibernation, and then they are ground into flour,” Kronk added.
Schlafly said she’s always been passionate about providing nourishment for people of modest and lower incomes, and she’s excited by the potential of cricket powder to provide nutritious food at an affordable cost.
“Generally speaking, you’re not going to taste it, and you wouldn’t know it was there unless someone told you it was there because it’s mixed in with other ingredients,” Kronk said.
The entrepreneurial pair has met with advisors at BioGenerator, an evergreen investor in St. Louis that creates and funds companies and supports entrepreneurs. There, they received advice on how to tighten up value as well as help with their application to Arch Grants, a nonprofit organization that awards $50,000 equity-free cash grants and support services to startups located in St. Louis for at least one year.
Kronk said they started by making oatmeal and other mixes because they were easy to produce and could hit the market quickly. Now they’re looking into making a cold cereal in an effort to separate themselves from competitors selling products made with cricket protein.
“We both loved crunching on cold cereal when we were younger. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could make an adult cereal tailored to the adult tongue?’ [Cereals like] Cocoa Puffs, cornflakes, Cookie Crisp,” he said. “. . . The idea is that the cricket powder adds a surprising nutrition benefit to the food.”
The duo attempted to make these cereals in a home-kitchen environment, but they learned it’s not the easiest thing to do, Kronk said. In order to launch such a product, they’ll need more dedicated machinery and instrumentation that is not widely available.
While they experiment with new products, their business still continues to expand its reach.
And what is the pair’s favorite way to consume cricket protein? Schlafly says she loves the Dark Cocoa Oatmeal.
Kronk laughed: “I like the waffles. Close second [is the] chocolate oatmeal.”