Today we’re talking about food. Not the sort of food that you're probably used to. As the world population gets larger, we have to look at more efficient sources of nutrition, efficient both in terms of the input/output ratio and the hectares or acres of land that are needed for each unit of nutrition. Today's episode is an interview so here’s a man who can talk about food of the future.
My guest today is Leo Taylor. He is founder and CEO of Yum Bug. Leo, welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report.
Thank you very much, pleasure to be here.
Now, we're talking about food. There's 8 billion people - we passed the 8 billion number for World Population last year. Everyone needs to eat. And there are all sorts of different sources of food and you've come up with - you're trying to promote - quite an unusual, unusual from a western point of view perhaps, type of food. Tell us more?
Yeah, absolutely. So we are a startup called Yum Bug, we turn insects - edible insects, crickets - into ingredients that people love to eat and recognise as food. So mince strips, burgers, that sort of thing.
Right, people love to eat! Now I see that you've launched it in a few restaurants in London. What's the take up like?
Well, luckily for us, it's been pretty good. But I have to say it totally depends on the kind of restaurant and the clientele of that restaurant. We have had places that haven't worked so well. You know, places where you have slightly older demographics, a little bit more of a conservative audience - typically don't do as well as the young professional and sort-of trendy kind of restaurants. So, those are the restaurants that we're going after. Places like tapas bars - again, a mixture of demographics there - but pizza places, burger joints, the sort of place where you typically get a younger demographic. Typically more interested in the environmental problem and sustainability - a little bit more open minded to try new things. So, that's where we've seen a pretty good uptake to the extent that we've tripled the average food takings of a brewery, Old Street Brewery. We tripled their average food takings, which was mind blowing for us. We've sold out multiple times in a few of these places. So thankfully, it's been going well.
So we're not talking about an exclusive ‘insect menu’ restaurant, we're talking about a traditional restaurant and different types of foods, which are putting your products on the menu. Yeah?
That's right. Yeah. But we are, I have to say, changing gears a little bit. So looking more at chains. We have started with independents, and now, we’re looking at chains to get the stuff out.
Right. Okay, and what sort of reactions are you getting? Clearly you're getting people who are trying the product and must be enjoying it. And coming back for more. But I feel there are a lot of people who think: “Worms, crickets? What? I don’t want to eat that!”.
I mean, what reactions are you getting? Well, you're telling me effectively that it depends on the demographic, doesn't it?
It does massively depend on the demographic. I have to say there are sort of a contingent of ‘empty nesters’, which I think is sort of the formal term - that are interested in this. So, it's not exclusively young people. I mean, there are some older people hitting their midlife crises where their kids leave home, and they want to cook delicious things at home. But the reactions we get vary from, “Oh dear, I'm certainly not putting insects in my mouth!”, to people thinking they're eating lamb, or beef, or meat. Particularly I think with these tapas places, because it's a very shareable environment, people aren't necessarily ordering the crickets - or aren't aware the crickets have been ordered. So they're eating crickets and I've asked them, “How's the crickets?”, and they are convinced that they're eating lamb! In these settings, where people are sharing dishes, sometimes you can get people off guard, and they think they're eating something that they're actually not. So that from our perspective, from a taste perspective, is a win for us.
Well, you’re presumably making it quite clear on the menu that they're not eating lamb. So…
Yes! It says crickets. Exactly.
So we're talking about the restaurants. I believe you've got plans actually to sell products to the domestic consumer. Are you talking about selling ingredients? Or are you talking about something like ready meals?
Well, we are talking about ingredients. Everything that we do is about incorporating insects into everyday meals as an ingredient. That's not to say that, at some point, we would be looking at ready meals. I think there's a whole host of potential products that insects could get into. Where we're starting is with restaurants, because restaurants are just the best way to introduce people to eating insects. However, the goal ultimately is to take insects mainstream - which for us, is making them available wherever you can buy meat. This means being in supermarkets and being in ready meals that people want to pick up for lunch or something. So, that's where we're trying to get to. There are a whole set of challenges with retail and challenges with the retail environment. And the main one is really just familiarity, and awareness of insects. You know, no one goes into Tesco looking for crickets. No one goes into Tesco craving cricket sandwiches! So this is the challenge that we are trying to overcome. With food service and restaurants - getting people to try this stuff, getting people talking about it, educating consumers, so that by the time we do hit the supermarkets, they are aware, at the very least, of why you'd want to be eating insects.
Have you got plans to extend your restaurant trials outside London?
100%. We are chatting currently to a number of major brands - Wagamama have verbally committed to putting us on which is quite exciting. So that starts over the summer, originally in London, but with potentially a full listing beyond London. We're chatting to BrewDog - the CEO of BrewDog, James Watt, posted about us yesterday. BrewDog is a chain of bars and breweries, and obviously they make a famous craft beer. But that would be another beyond-London partnership.
So they serve food as well? So they would have food in their offering?
They do, exactly. And there's a few other chains that I probably can't talk too much about. But, certainly (we’re) looking to go beyond London, and I think you know, looking at the UK as a whole is where we would like to be in the next year or two.
Well, one question we skated around is why insects? Why eat something different from what we're used to? Why not eat lamb or not eat… what we're used to?
Sustainable - Low Impact
Fantastic question. And this gets to the heart of why we - Aaron, my co-founder and I - started this. Insects are one of the most sustainable foods on Earth and one of the most sustainable proteins on Earth. You're looking at about 1,800 times less CO2 than beef per kilogramme of protein. That’s a hell of a lot less CO2! Also - compared to other traditional livestock - far less water, feed, and land comparably as well. Insects can be vertically farmed, which means you are using far less land resources. Crickets themselves don't actually drink water, so they get the water from the fruit and veg that they eat. All of these things mean that insects are just incredibly sustainable to produce. There's also the aspect of nutrition and health and this is a really, really big point for us as well. Crickets are just unbelievably packed with nutrition. You're looking at, in a raw cricket, about 70% protein. That's three times the protein of beef. They've got more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, more potassium than bananas, more B12 than red meat, more fibre than brown rice - the list keeps going! Similar Omega 3’s and 6’s than the salmon! They're an incredibly nutritious superfood - and we don't use that term lightly - which you can ultimately rear off food waste. So, things that would have otherwise ended up in landfill, you can recapture that waste and turn it into this delicious food, which I have to say is eaten in most parts of the world. 80% of countries - over 80%, according to the UN - are countries that eat edible insects. Not because they have to, but because insects are delicious! People in these countries are actually craving insects as a thing that they would like to eat for dinner. I think what's curious about it, and particularly in the western context, is that we love shellfish, we love prawns, we eat calamari, the whole fish, we’ll have oysters! All of these things - I mean, particularly if you think about shellfish, like prawns - are really just insects of the sea. Prawns and insects - crickets, specifically - are related to the extent that if you're allergic to shellfish, you might also be allergic to crickets, because they share common ancestors. There really is no good reason why we are okay with eating prawns, but not crickets.
Right, so are you actually farming your crickets and your insects at this stage? Or are you importing?
So we are doing neither. We are working with a partner farm in Cambridgeshire, who farms the crickets for us. We buy them as big bags of frozen crickets, and then we turn them into these patties, mince, and strips, that we then sell on to restaurants.
So I have to ask this… How do they euthanize them? Do they freeze them? Is that the way that they bring their lives to an end?
Ultimately - yes. They go through a period of hibernation, before they are frozen. They go into the fridge, which cools them down - similar to what would be the case naturally in winter. So they go into a state of hibernation and then they're frozen, then the freezing kills them.
Yes. Okay. I see. So it's relatively humane.
Better than being bolted in the head a few times. As you might be if you're a cow. Yeah.
Yeah. How do insects rate with vegans?
Good question. They aren't vegan because they are animals. So, on restaurant menus, we are under the meat section. And I think it's important to say that we very much align - we feel we align - with the vegan mission, which is to ultimately create a more environmentally sustainable food system. we aren't trying to change veganism or vegetarianism. This is very much about helping meat eaters - people who want to eat meat - to eat more sustainable meat. So the fact that we are listed under the meat section is great, because you've got a meat eater, looking for some meat options. And you've got a really, really sustainable meat option on the menu. So this isn't strictly vegan, it isn't veggie - though we find it typically splits veggies. My co-founder is a vegetarian who eats insects. It depends on your reasons for being vegetarian. If you care about the environment, if you care about your nutrition - insects would fit quite neatly into that.
Online for the Future
Well, that's really interesting. So going forward, when am I going to be able to get some of your product? I presume initially it will be mailorder. But when will you be opening your online shop?
It's a really, really good question. We've actually retracted a little bit on the online space. So we initially started selling only online. But we found that there were a number of issues with it. Right now, the main issue is delivery costs. When you're shipping raw meats, essentially, there's just insane fulfilment costs, shipping costs, which neither makes it really viable for the consumer because they're having to pay a £10-£15 delivery fee. And it doesn't make it viable for us if we're absorbing it in our margins. So all of our focus is on getting it into restaurants, and creating accessibility. And actually, the credibility around the dish through these restaurants. We’re leaning on these great chefs, and on the brands that these restaurants bring, as a way to introduce people to insects - which actually we found as a much, much better introduction, rather than hoping that people could pop a good meal at home. So I think the online direct to consumer route will certainly come back in as an option, maybe a year or two down the line. But for the moment, given that we're a small team - we're only three people! - we are very much focused on the restaurant routes. The next step will be retail. So, how can we get this into shops so that people can go in and pick it up for their dinner if they want to? Before the online route.
So what sort of shelf life does it have? Does it have to be stored frozen?
It can be frozen or chilled. You've obviously got a longer shelf life frozen. So you're looking at about three months of shelf life for frozen products, and eight days chilled. Which is more than your typical chilled meat product.
Okay, well, it's very interesting. I will be interested to catch up with you in 12 months time. Hopefully in 12 months time there'll be a restaurant a bit closer to me than London.
Where are you? Where are you based?
I'm based in York, which is 200 miles north of London, of course.
Brewdog or Wagamama
I'm sure there's a BrewDog or Wagamama in York that you might be able to pop into in the coming months.
There is certainly a Wagamama. I think there's probably a BrewDog as well. Yes. Okay. Okay, so it'll be nationally available in Brewdog then?
Well - in trial. So we're talking to them now about how we arrange these trials and potentially make them work. If people did want to cook at home, we're chatting to a few recipe box companies that would deliver the whole recipe - including the insect products with a menu recipe card, that shows you how to cook it up. So that would be another option as well. But we're a bit too early to say too much about that, just yet.
Well, Leo, it's been really interesting talking to you. Another dimension of food! So thank you very much for taking the time to talk to the Sustainable Futures Report.
No worries, thank you so much Anthony for having us. It was great fun.
Leo Taylor, CEO of YumBug.
Give it a Try
If you come across a branch of Brewdog or Wagamama that is taking part in market trials for YumBug, would you try what they have to offer? If not, why not? But if you do decide to give it a try please do get in touch and let us know what you think. I plan to get back to the subject in 12 months time or so. We’ll see how far things have developed and whether insect-based snacks are now on the menu of your favourite restaurant or pub.
On Friday of this week, I shall be in London at The Big One, the event organised by Extinction Rebellion. I will take my camera and my recorder and I will report back to you next week. You may remember that I've been to events such as these in London before, and also in Leeds. It'll be interesting to see how many people actually turn out. As I explained last time this is going to be a non-violent demonstration, as always, and this time nothing is going to be broken and no one is going to glue themselves to anything. The organisers hope for hundreds of thousands of people. It'll be really interesting to see exactly how many people turn out, and how many people stay for the full four days. I live 200 miles away from London, so I shall only be down there for the Friday and I expect there will be many people in the same situation. Will you be there? If not, why not? And if you are, please get in touch and share with us what you thought about it and whether you think we're going to be able to make changes and change minds.
Or have we reached a level of protest fatigue? Are we so cynical of our British politicians that the thought of influencing them to do anything positive or imaginative is alien to most people? Whether you'll be in London or not, please do let me have your thoughts and ideas for next Wednesday's edition.
Either way, we’re making history. Let’s hope it will be a headline, not a footnote.
Sustainable Futures Report
Well over 450 editions of the Sustainable Futures Report have gone out now. How long shall I keep going? Are you enjoying the episodes? Are there different topics that I should be including.? Are there people that you'd particularly like me to try and interview? Is there anything in particular that you don't like and you'd like me to change? There's no point in my doing this if it's not what anybody wants. I make a thing of my independence, given that I don't accept sponsorship, advertising or subsidies, but of course if I take that too far and my opinions are of no interest, then as I say, there is no point in carrying on. I love feedback so I look forward to hearing from you with your ideas. I also love patrons so if you're not a patron, please go to patreon.com/SFR and make a small contribution towards the costs of running what is a nonprofit (and that doesn't mean non-loss) operation.
I'll be back next week with another edition of the Sustainable Futures Report, as long as I've not been arrested.
But for the moment that was the Sustainable Futures Report.
I am Anthony Day.
Until next week.