Interviews

Crickets nut fudge? Freeze-dried mealworms? The small company putting insects on our plates

7 min read

12 November 2015

As millions of people head out to restaurants or order a takeaway this weekend, how many will be looking forward to tucking into a delicious plate of insects?

Shami Radia and Neil Whippey hope that more people will be indulging in a spot of entomophagy, in other words eating insects. They set up their company Grub in 2013 and have partnered with a well-established chef called Seb Holmes to host several insect-inspired pop-up restaurants around London.

On various trips on to Malawi on behalf of a charity, Radia had witnessed local people eating insects. He and Whippey started researching issue and learnt about the nutritional benefits of eating insects. They also discovered that rearing insects, as opposed to traditional livestock, can help save their world’s precious resources.

Radia went to South East Asia to continue the research, which included trying such delicacies as roasted tarantulas. The legs taste like chicken wing while the abdomen has a texture like profiterole, apparently. Meanwhile, Whippey stayed behind in the UK and prepared the groundwork for Grub. After Radia had spent six months travelling to remote places in search of traditional insect cuisine, the two were confident that they had a workable business idea.

Within nine months of launching, they became the first to sell edible and cookable insects in UK supermarkets. They’ve also been developing their ranges of snacks including roasted crickets and cricket nut fudge – along with an insect cook book and the launch of the UK’s first farm producing crickets for human consumption, both of which are planned for next year.

Radia and Whippey argue that livestock farming is becoming unsustainable. Soya, the main protein source in animal feed, costs up to £1,000 a ton and it takes 25kg of soya to rear 1kg of beef, they pointed out. Not only that, but domestically we only produce two per cent of the soya we need. 

Most agricultural land in Europe is already in use, so the continent is reliant on imports in a global market where consumption of meat has increased 20-fold in 40 years and will keep increasing. Scientists agree that Europe is facing a huge a protein shortage and increasingly argue that insects could be the answer.

However, according to 2014 Mintel data, 27 per cent of people living in the UK would be interested in trying eaten insect-sourced protein. What’s more, over 80 per cent of the global population eats insects. Certain grubs contain around 50 per cent protein, the constitution of which is similar to fish, pork or beef, but less fatty. Insects also contain polyunsaturated fatty acids and high levels of vitamins and minerals and are generally viewed as very tasty.

“I have a history of working in television post production where attention to detail and consistent output of the highest quality is paramount,” said Whippey. “Coming into contact with numerous cooking programmes and a love of nutrition due to my history of Crohn’s disease, insects came to be a perfect fit at the perfect time.”

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They met Holmes through a contact who’d appeared on the Masterchef programme. “Seb went on to help us launch our test concept, a seven-course tasting menu which used insects in all the dishes,” said Whippey. “We were sponsored by Chang Beer for the week-long event in Hoxton Square which received a lot of publicity and was a complete sell out.”

The two have since completed a number of events with Holmes, including a 1,000 dish event at Cambridge University.

Radia and Whippey raised £20,000 between them, including loans from Radia’s brother and Whippey’s parents. Turnover is currently around £120,000 – up from £50,000 in their first year.

This month, Radia and Whippey will be launching their Kickstarter campaign to help part-fund and launch their new Eat Grub Bar made with cricket flour – a rich mix of super healthy ingredients and a great source of protein. The new bar will be ready to go into production early next year, with availability to buy scheduled for April 2016. Grub have the recipe and design and are now asking the Kickstarter community for a little help, with all donators receiving different rewards for their pledges.

Grub is involved in a number of brand tie-ins. As well as Chang beer they’ve worked with Rococo Chocolates and Primal Kitchen in order to widen their audience. “We were at Wahaca’s Day of The Dead Festival recently doing insect cocktails and roasted cricket snacks for brand awareness, which was also a great platform to publicise the Kickstarter campaign,” said Whippey.

The decision by organic supermarket Planet Organic to take on the company’s freeze-dried cooking range of insects was a major boost following six months of testing. They were also selected this year by advertising agencies Ogilvy and Mindshare as a template for research on advertising insights in the new sector. “We’ve completed a number of events with them this year as a result. This has given us a very positive outlook going forward, and great confidence in our brand,” added Whippey.

As well as their cricket farm and cook book, Whippey and Radia are looking to develop a range of flavours for their Eat Grub Bar. “We’re passionate about providing our customers with a journey through insects, starting with our new Eat Grub Bar, moving through our pre-roasted whole cricket snacks and then finally trying to cook themselves with our dried range,” said Whippey. “We want to show that truly, insects are good food, in every way.”