We should probably all be eating bugs. Insects have as much protein–and more vitamins and minerals–than beef or chicken, and a bug farm takes a fraction of the resources of say, raising cattle. Still, despite a quickly growing market, most Americans may still not quite be willing to swap out steak for ground-up crickets.
So one new startup is beginning with a less squeamish consumer: dogs.
Entobento, a San Diego-based company, makes dog treats with healthy, human-grade ingredients like peanut butter, eggs, and honey. It’s designed to be food that dogs want to eat as much as the standard processed products that the company founders call “doggy junk food.” But the key to their recipe is the insects.
“Our goal is to push entomophagy [eating insects] forward, and the way we’re doing that is by focusing on dogs first,” says Kaison Tanabe, one of the founders of Entobento.
Tanabe and his five co-founders, who met at a Startup Weekend competition last year, were inspired by a 2013 U.N. report that lays out the long list of benefits of shifting agriculture to insects. Producing a pound of beef takes 2,000 times more water than a pound of crickets, far more land and energy, and emits 100 times more greenhouse gases. As the global population grows, replacing some traditional meat with insects could be a way to provide more sustainable nutrition to the world.
The extent to which pets adopting a food would ever help convince humans to eat the same thing isn’t exactly clear. But Entobento wanted to bring a product to market that had the widest reach. “It seemed like a lot of people were willing to consider the idea, but there’s such a large psychological barrier,” Tanabe says. “We decided to take a look at dogs.”
The company wants to work with pet food regulators to start using cricket flour in dog food, but until they clear that hurdle, they’re focused on treats. They’ve spent the last year coming up with a recipe that dogs like, and they’re crowdfunding production on Kickstarter.
They’re not the only startup with the idea: BugBites, another startup, recently ran a Kickstarter with a different version of cricket treats.
“If there’s no competition, that’s a bad sign,” says Tanabe. “But if there’s some competition, that’s a great sign. We really like that they’re there…one thing that’s pretty interesting about the entomophagy industry is how incredibly collaborative it is. The mentality is that any success in the industry is a success for everybody.”