Vulcan Post: Meet The M'sian Lawyer Who Left The Bar To Be A Cricket Farmer
The Impossible Burger—that comes with a 100% plant-based patty that looks, smells, and tastes just like real meat—has already made its way to Singapore.
We might soon be very grateful for the Impossible Burger and its kin, because it is possible that meat will simply become too expensive for masses to afford.
But where does that leave average Joes like us who just want a shot of protein, but would like a non-plant option?
Kevin Wu of Ento would like to offer us a salted egg cricket as an alternative.
Kevin was born in Malaysia, but spent quite a few of his formative years in the UK.
He was called to the Malaysian Bar as an Advocate & Solicitor in 2018 but his childhood dream to be an entrepreneur turned out to be the stronger call.
“I remember the days where I started off by selling kids’ toys in morning markets. I like the buzz, the pace and hustle of entrepreneurship.”
His discomfort with being restricted by a corporate environment, coupled with his love of venturing into new spaces led him to launching his own business.
Sustainability For The Future
At the core, Ento exists because of Kevin’s passion for sustainability.
“I believe everything we do ought to be sustainable. Ultimately, we cannot make decisions for short term benefits only,” said Kevin.
He came across a United Nations report on food sustainability which proposed insect protein to feed the future.
According to him, the stats also add up as such:
- Less feed (2.1kg feed per 1kg crickets) – 12x less compared to beef
- Less water (2 litres per 1 kg crickets) – 56x less compared to beef
- Less land (15 sq ft per kg cricket) – 17x less land compared to beef
- Less greenhouse gases produced – 3000x less compared to beef
Kevin started off with trying to find cricket snacks in Malaysia, but it was a nigh impossible task.
“The products that I found were mostly in the US or Europe and prohibitively expensive. After some research, I soon realised that most of the cricket farms are from US or Europe,” he said.
Over in those locations, labour costs and heating costs are high. Malaysia and its tropical climate on the other hand is perfect for farming crickets, eliminating the need for heating or humidity.
Kevin saw a possible competitive advantage and Ento was founded in 2018. In layman’s terms, they farm crickets for human consumption.
Bugs In My Mouth
If the thought of popping crickets into your mouth like potato crisps disgusts you, you’re not alone.
Even Kevin shared the same reservations the first time he had was thinking of having his first bite of crickets.
But this prejudice is something he believes Ento can overcome.
“Think about the story of lobsters 150-200 years ago in the East coast of the US. Lobsters were pests and were considered ‘insects of the land’, people would feed lobsters to prisoners. Fast forward to today, lobster is a prized delicacy,” said Kevin.
“We believe we can change and shape the way consumers see food in the future.”
But that’s not the only hurdle in their way. The Ento team launched their first Kickstarter campaign in March 2019, but failed to reach their goal.
They’re relaunching the campaign on May 7, with a new gameplan which includes lowering their funding target, doing pre-marketing, and lining up distribution channels to promote it.
Taking The First Bite
“But how do crickets actually taste?” you ask.
While researching the products, Kevin went around bug taste-testing in Chiang Mai, and found crickets to be the tastiest of them all.
As for their actual flavour, here’s what Kevin has to say, “Once I popped a couple of crickets into my mouth, I was hooked! Crickets have a nutty, earthy and umami taste. They taste somewhat like a cross between shrimps and toasted almonds!”
And for your very first try, Kevin has this succinct piece of advice to overcome the initial fear or eating bugs: “Close your eyes and pop it into your mouth!”
When it comes to getting Malaysians to take their first bite, Kevin has found that cricket tasting booths are the most effective method.
“Surprisingly a lot of people have heard about insects for human consumption but never got to taste it for themselves. Once people tried it, they really like the taste!”
Chirping Up A Storm
To date, since the products launched in March 2019, Ento has generated over RM15,000+ in revenue. Kevin told us that they they are currently backlogged in orders and pre-orders and pending more products from their production facility.
“Our scale is still small, so we only produce around 1,000 packets per month. We aim to launch our B2B product line by Q3 2019. In the meantime, we are hoping to increase our current capacity by 50x over the next 24 months.”
Kevin’s come quite far from his early days before Ento’s product launch where he described being laughed at or dismissed because his idea was too weird.
Although Ento’s products are sold locally in Malaysia, their main target markets are Thailand, US, Canada and Europe.
“Consumers in Western markets are looking towards nutrient rich and sustainable food sources. Modern society is getting busier and busier, I foresee that consumers will look towards snacks that are higher in nutrition values and healthy as a replacement for meals,” said Kevin.
In line with that, Ento’s current focus is on perfecting their next product line: cricket powder to serve the B2B export segment.
This powder is aimed at food manufacturers to use the cricket powder to create nutritious and sustainable protein, in products such as protein bars, protein shakes, chips, pastries, burgers, sausages, or even pasta.
By 2020, Kevin want to make Ento ready for commercial export and compete directly with producers in Thailand, Canada and US.