Gavriel Tan and John Lee are both final year students at Republic Polytechnic (RP). They were eagerly awaiting internships abroad, but unfortunately Covid-19 had put the brakes on their plans.
When they found out that they could replace their internship with their school’s Incubation Accelerator program, they decided to apply instead.
At the same time, they had stumbled across a United Nations book titled “Edible Insects: Future Perspectives for Food and Security”. This sparked their interest in converting insects into functional food products and came up with the idea of protein bars made from cricket flour.
This very new idea earned them a prototype grant of S $ 10,000 to start their business. Called Altimate Nutrition (Altimate is a pun on ‘alternative’ and ‘ultimate’, it claims to be the first company in Singapore to create insect food products for humans.
Crickets are high in protein
Altimate Nutrition essentially converts the extracted cricket meal into nutritious and sustainable food products.
“We chose protein bars because it is a familiar food product often consumed by athletes and active people, who are our initial target segments,” said Gavriel.
Now their target audience has shifted to focus more on young people and working adults who care about their health and the environment.
In addition, they felt that the existing protein bars on the market are not sustainable (in terms of protein source) and are not as nutritious as the protein bars against insects.
When asked why they chose to make protein bars from flour made from crickets, Gavriel explained that crickets are actually a complete source of protein (containing over 70% protein) with the nine essential amino acids. They are also rich in essential micronutrients like vitamin B12 and iron.
Besides its nutritional attributes, they also chose to use cricket protein flour because of its resource efficiency. These factors aside, it is undoubtedly a challenge for them to get consumers to overcome the “ick” factor.
“People still have this stigma that associates bugs with negative connotations like poverty and filth. However, our products have all passed microbial and nutritional testing to prove that they meet food standards safe for consumption, ”assured Gavriel.
He added that instead of focusing too much on where it comes from, they are promoting their products as an all-in-one nutritional supplement.
“We are highlighting the nutritional properties of insects like crickets, and how they can potentially help strengthen our food and nutrition security. “
Although they constantly faced criticism that no one would be convinced to consume insects, they saw it as constructive feedback and continued to develop the product.
“When it was time to do our sensory assessment, our panelists were impressed (that) our products performed better than the other commercial protein bars we compared against.”
They spent six months creating their first products
Altimate Nutrition started up during the blackout period, which severely hampered their progress.
Due to the lockdown of their school and the food research lab, they were unable to access the necessary equipment, leading them to question their ability to create food products with flavors that everyone will enjoy.
The two tweaked their formulations on several occasions and spent almost six months to come up with their first two flavors: Double Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cinnamon.
“There were no easy-to-find recipes online for insect food products, so we had to do a lot of extensive research and trial and error for our proposed formulations,” Gavriel lamented. .
Due to the novelty of their insect food product, it was not easy for them to find knowledgeable people in this field and they had to do a lot of self-learning by reading academic articles, books, etc.
“Fortunately, with the help of our school, we got to know industrial partners in the food industry, which helped us to accelerate the development of our products. Initially the responses were quite skeptical and people weren’t very receptive to the idea when we invited them to a product tasting.
“However, once they tried our products, they were mainly impressed with the taste and how ‘normal’ it was to consume insect products. Most of them have also expressed interest in consuming them again or even buying them once we bring them to market.
Enter the field of alternative proteins
Both are biotechnology students, but Gavriel majored in food science (with a Plus degree in business innovation and entrepreneurship), while John majored in research.
With these skills, they were confident to venture into the field of alternative proteins, even though it was their very first commercial venture.
Asked about the reactions of family and friends when they first broke the news of Ultimate Nutrition, Gavriel revealed that many initially doubted their abilities to develop and market such a new product, especially one. produced with such an unorthodox ingredient – insect meal.
“There were also a lot of uncertainties, which we wouldn’t call critical as we generally see them as constructive comments to help us improve our ideas,” Gavriel said.
“Being young to start entrepreneurship surprisingly did not elicit as many negative responses as expected. Instead, the community around us was very supportive of our idea and even offered to help us every step of the way so far, ”he said, adding that they had also received a lot of support from PR Entrepreneurship Development Office.
It’s a matter of time before insects become a staple food form
Altimate Nutrition is currently awaiting approval from the Singapore Food Agency (SFA). Once approved, they seek partnerships to distribute their products.
“Right now we’re talking to a few sustainable distributors, gyms, lifestyle stores and ‘green’ stores,” Gavriel said, adding that they were targeting a retail price of S $ 5.
As they get closer to the commercialization stage, they also look to raise funds and apply for other grants.
Commenting on the food tech industry, Gavriel believes that one of the biggest growth areas is in alternative proteins, which can be derived from plants, cultured meat and insects.
“The food technology industry is definitely a booming industry, especially in Singapore where the focus is on food safety.”
“Globally, new food innovations are needed to curb our current production of unsustainable meat. As the world’s population continues to grow, new food innovations will enable us to tackle growing issues like climate change, the inhumane treatment of animals associated with the current food ecosystem.
Going forward, Gavriel said Ultimate Nutrition plans to take control of its farm-to-fork products and build an automated cricket farm in Singapore by the end of next year.
He added that they are now working on a few new flavors and did not rule out the possibility of launching other cricket products in the future like pasta, chips, muffins and shakes.
“The world is slowly, but surely, finding a way to incorporate insects as a form of staple food. This will happen whether we like it or not, as our limited resources will eventually push humanity to seek an alternative source to supplement the growing demand for food. “
Featured Image Credit: Altima Nutrition
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