Startup Focus

Danish insect startup targets holistic nutrition with mineral-dense buffalo worm bar

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Danish insect startup targets holistic nutrition with mineral-dense buffalo worm bar
Denmark-based Wholifoods has developed a buffalo worm energy bar rich in iron, zinc and magnesium to plug deficiencies and provide holistic sport nutrition stretching beyond protein which is 'very hyped', its co-founder says.

Launched at the beginning of September, Buff Bar comes in two variants – Lime and Coconut Crunch and Salty Peanut Butter – and is made using 11-12% buffalo larvae flour, equivalent to 800 larvae, to deliver 18g insect protein per bar. Both bars also contain 2.9mg and 2.3mg of iron, respectively; 110mg and 130mg zinc; 130mg and 110mg magnesium, and vitamin B12, omega-3 and calcium. The bars are currently stocked in Fitness World gyms across Denmark and available online.

Wholifoods previously launched Dare to Eat insect snack squares following a successful Kickstarter campaign in January 2017, made using cricket and buffalo worm flour.

Jessica og Malena Dare to Eat

Iron, zinc, protein - a 'holistic' nutritional profile

Malena Sigurgeirsdottir, co-founder of Wholifoods who has a background in nutrition and seven years of insect research behind her, said the decision to use buffalo larvae flour for the bars was strategic.

“It's a very holistic nutritional profile you get from these Buff Bars,” ​Sigurgeirsdottir told NutraIngredients.

“The main difference between the buffalo larvae and crickets is that buffalo larvae contains 60% protein where the cricket has 70%, however the buffalo larvae has more iron and good fatty acids. So, there are pros and cons but we're thinking more holistically. I think protein is being very hyped but like one-third of women in Denmark are walking around with too little iron in their body,” ​she said.

Iron deficiency is not only an issue in the Western world but also developing countries, she said, particularly amongst women and pregnant women. Zinc deficiency is also a problem.

Each Buff Bar contains 50% of an adult's recommended daily intake (RI) for zinc and 16% RI for iron.

“There's a few startups doing products with insects but what makes us different is we have this background of a lot of information on insects and nutrition,” ​she said.

“...Sometimes I look at competing products containing 3-4% insect powder and I just think that's crazy. If you ask me, it should be at least 10% just to cover some of the needs we have, otherwise it's just a gimmick. But, I also understand why people would put less in because it's so expensive still.”

Wholifoods is taking a risk manufacturing bars with 12% buffalo worm flour, Sigurgeirsdottir said, but it's one the company believes is worth taking and as the market grows, should pay off.


Securing supply with new, exciting species

However, with market growth comes the challenge of supply – something that, for the time being aligned with demand but may not for long, she said.

“Right now, the supply is sufficient but if we were Nestlé or something, it wouldn't be sufficient at all. I mean, just ordering 500 kilos per month is a big order for the biggest companies producing cricket and buffalo worm flour.”

To secure future insect supply, Sigurgeirsdottir said it will be vital to upscale production in emerging markets rather than just expand European insect production.

“I'm going to focus on sourcing from developing countries who have all these amazing edible insect species. There are 2,000 edible insects out there, and there might be much more, but in Europe they're only going to grow two of them - crickets and buffalo worms.”

So many parts of the world have alternative insect species, she said, like Kenya with termites; Mexico with red grasshoppers and ants, and whilst these species are currently only wild-harvested, there is potential to change that.

“There's a lot of insects out there but it needs a lot of research. It's like with cows and pigs, we could do the same but with a lot of different insect species.”

Insect powder 'should just be sold on shelves'

Wholifoods is currently working on a project in Cambodia with smallholder farms to upscale production of a local black cricket variety that has an exceptional taste profile compared to European-grown crickets, Sigurgeirsdottir said.

“I think we're going to learn a lot from Cambodia about the most successful way in growing crickets because it's still so new and there's so many different ways. Hopefully we'll be able to get some new and tasty insect species into the market, working with Kenya and Mexico too, but maybe that's a little ambitious.”

Once a steady supply from Cambodia is secured, she said Wholifoods will use the cricket flour in a variety of new products, including gluten-free flatbreads and a meat replacement product called Manna – currently in the developmental phase and set for market testing in March, next year.

Sigurgeirsdottir said the goal of the company is to take insects beyond snacks and sports, although this could take time.

“It's one thing to eat insects in snack form but to actually move to have a real meal with insects, that's something else and I don't know if the market is ready for it yet,”​ she said.

Wholifoods hopes to launch Buff Bar into the UK and Germany in the coming months.

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