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May 14, 2019

Lewiston edible insect company begins cricket farm

Courtesy / Entosense Entosense in Lewiston has begun growing crickets for human consumption and is marketing the flavored product as “Mini-Kickers.”

Entosense, an edible insect company in Lewiston, began farming its own crickets over the past winter, with the goal of eventually replacing its outsourced cricket products with locally raised products.

This summer, the owners plan to raise $1 million to $2 million to pay for a 10,000- to 20,000-square-foot cricket farm. Co-founders and siblings Bill Broadbent and Susan Broadbent opened a related firm, EntoMarket, in 2015 as an online edible insect marketplace — and crickets lead the menu of options, they say, sprinkled on omelettes and salads. 

Its Mini-Kickers Flavored Crickets — which come in flavors like Indian curry, lemon meringue and Mexican mole — are sold through a network of 30 independent salespeople around the country. They're available at stores like Jungle Jim’s International Markets, Concord (N.H.) Food Coop and Kittery Trading Post.

Entosense supplies a variety of edible insects. That includes chapulines, which are seasoned grasshoppers from Mexico. Entosense supplies chapulines to customers like Chef Wolfgang Puck, the Seattle Mariners, "The Late Late Show" with James Corden,  the Smithsonian  Institute, Sea World and Busch Gardens, according to a press release.

Expanded space

Bill Broadbent told Mainebiz that he and Susan worked for the first three years out of a barn attached to his house in Auburn. 

Courtesy / Entosense
Bill Broadbent co-founded Entosense at his home in Auburn and serves as president.

In 2018, they received financing from a private investor to expand, and moved into a space of  just under 6,000 square feet in the Hill Mill in Lewiston, across from Bates Mill. 

The company now sells 100 pounds per week of its two top-sellers, crickets and chapulines. Its  next two top sellers are black ants and scorpions, but the sales numbers are substantially lower, he said. 

They sell particularly  well in the Rocky Mountain states and across the south,  he said.

“We were growing at 30% to 50% per year,” he said. For 2019, he expects to sell 10 times as much of his cricket product as 2018. 

The company operated a cricket farm for a few months last year, but a larger year-round cricket farm is still in development.

“We stopped growing the crickets over the winter because they need humidity and we’re not big enough yet to have a big humidifying system,” he said.

Cricket farming is easy, he said. Egg cartons are placed in bins to serve as the insects’ home. They’re filled with two to three inches of dirt for the crickets to lay eggs. He feeds the crickets with organic chicken feed and water.

Once grown, the insects are cleaned of their legs and wings to make them more palatable, he said. 

Crickets in your salad

“We’ll throw a handful of cricket into a frittata or an omelet or onto a salad,” he said.

Entosense sources edible tarantulas, scorpions, silkworm pupae, bamboo worms and other insects from Thailand; scorpions and black ants from China; and chapulines from Mexico.

Broadbent said he originally thought the product would do well in natural food stores. “Interestingly, they’ve been tougher to get into than we thought,” he said. “But we do really well with chefs.”

They came up with the Mini-Kickers product, in 10 flavors, two weeks before this past Christmas. The product was originally packaged in small jars. But the price point was too much for retailers to give it a try. 

“So we came up with the idea of doing smaller portions in tubes,” he said. “We had them in retail outlets for Christmas and for January. In February, we started wholesale and they’ve taken off.”

Mini-Kickers have been placed in about 100 stores so far, he said.

“We’re pretty sure we have a shot at selling $1 million of Mini-Kickers by the end of 2019,” he said. 

A key strategy for placing the product is to send samples, he said. 

“On the phone, they’re not sure,” he said. “But as soon as they try the sample, they’re in.”

Edible insects is a growing trend, he said.

“We joke that it’s an ancient food trending today,” he said. 

Broadbent said he also attends food conferences, like the Research Chefs Association conference held in March in Louisville, KY. 

“Our booth was so packed that people couldn’t even get up to us to try samples,” he said.

Exposure through celebrity chefs and media outlets, including an appearance on the Today Show, have boosted sales as well, he said.

“We believe chefs are the answer,” he said. “Chefs use them in different meals.”

The goal of the farm is to produce all of its cricket product at some point, he said. 

“There’s lots of room to grow here,” he said of the Hill Mill space.

The strategy for this year is to push the Mini-Kickers into new retail outlets, then focus on obtaining additional financing and on the farm operation after the summer, he said.


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