According to Ento Founder and CEO Kevin Wu, the firm first started out in Malaysia with a range of roasted crickets and larvae as snack items, but the challenge was – and still is – getting new consumers to even try these.
“When we first launched the roasted snack products, we found that maybe only three out of every 10 people were willing to try these, much less buy them, and that’s when we realized it was very much an uphill challenge to change people’s dietary habits and adopt new ones,” Wu told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“So we’ve acknowledged these challenges, and listened to consumer feedback for more mass market products, and so have moved to focus on powderised formats – this means we ‘proteinise’ regular products such as granola, cookies, bread, cake and so on with cricket powder to raise the protein content.
“Since then we’ve found that at least seven out of 10 consumers are willing to at least try these, so the acceptability has definitely increased.”
This does not mean that Ento is giving up on its whole-insect snacks, as Wu believes there still remains a market for these and there are still consumers who take these as direct snacks or as added toppings on dishes to add protein, but just that Ento will not be developing this range further for now.
“High protein is the main focus anyway, and we are much higher in protein than any other snack out there. This can be achieved via the proteinisation approach too – for example our granolas contain around two times the protein content found in Amazin’ Grace granola, which is one of the healthiest niche granolas out there and has 11% to 12% protein content,” he said.
“We are also currently developing an Ento burger patty with a two-star Michelin chef in Singapore, which will be infused with our cricket protein. The patty will also contain plant-based ingredients, and the chef will be working on the spices and ingredients formulation to make sure it is tasty.
“The reason we’re looking at a burger patty is very much because we were inspired by the success of companies such as Impossible Foods, which have grown so rapidly based on their burger patty – we definitely hope to emulate and replicate this success [in the insect-based protein space].”
The Ento burger patty is expected to be released early to mid-2021, but the firms other insect-based snacks are found on all major online platforms as well as select health food stores. In Malaysia, the snacks go for RM9.90 (US$2.39) per 25g pack crickets, 50g pack larvae or 100g pack granola bites, whereas cricket protein powder is RM29.90 (US$7.21).
Ento mainly hopes to appeal to younger consumers, particularly millennials and Gen Z’s, in order to change food habits as early as possible, and expects that its key consumer demographic will be urban, highly educated millennials in developed countries with health, nutrition and sustainability priorities.
“We are the market leader in terms of insect food products in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, small though the market is, and have just sent our first shipment over to Amazon US, which will give us access to a huge market,” said Wu.
“Over the next three to six months, we definitely also hope to enter Amazon Europe and Japan. One of our main advantages over existing products, especially in Western markets, is that we are definitely cheaper due to how our cost structure is set up here.”
Fundraising from the masses
When it comes to fundraising, as opposed to the usual VC route that most start-ups go for, Wu has opted to employ a much less-used method called an Equity Funding Campaign (ECF), which essentially involves sourcing for funds from the average person.
“In this region, we found that the VC route was not sufficient for food tech firms in this particular area, so thought that we’d go by the retail route to open up access to our consumers and fans to become ‘retail investors’,” he said,
“What this means is that if a public or retail investor invests in us through the Fundnel platform, they will get shares in the company – and with these funds we will be able to grow the company, increase production and distribution, increase revenue and eventually give capital appreciation on these shares.”