Would you try food made out of insects? If you’re thinking ‘no’, spending time with Christine Spliid will most likely change your mind. Forever seeking new challenges, the Danish entrepreneur founded Gathr Foods in 2O15 and was the first company to bring cricket based food products to the UK. Under the brand Crobar, she launched three different flavoured health bars with added cricket flour. Not only do the bars taste delicious, the addition of crickets actually makes their nutritional profile more interesting as they are rich in protein, iron and vitamins. They’re also great for the planet too, requiring significantly less water than cattle. We met with her to understand what it takes to get Brits to eat creepy crawlies.
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ROOTS

Can you tell us about your background and how you started Crobar?

I have been into healthy food for a long time and I really wanted to start a business that had a bit more meaning than what I did before, which was selling interior items. Whilst travelling extensively in South East Asia I tried insects for the first time – crickets more specifically – in Cambodia. When I came home I started researching the health and environmental aspects around them. I realized that some American companies and a few companies in the Netherlands had slowly started to incorporate insects into food products. In the UK no one had done anything like that yet, so I decided to be the first one to launch a cricket flour product, and that’s how it all started.

What was your initial reaction when trying insects?

I am a foodie, so I would eat anything, but I first had to get over the idea of eating a whole insect. This is the reason why I thought that it was too early to introduce a whole insect product. I don’t think people are ready for that and that’s why the cricket flour makes a lot more sense as a functional ingredient.

Why did you launch your business in the UK?

I initially came to study in the UK, so I knew the market and all my friends were there. Also, the UK is quite far ahead in terms of health food so it was kind of perfect to launch an innovative food product.

You are from Denmark, what is the health food scene there?

I think Denmark is very far ahead and forward thinking in terms of healthy food, especially when it comes to organic food. I am also trying to push the whole idea in Denmark and we do sell our products there, but it’s obviously a much smaller market, so our focus remains the UK.

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CRITICAL DECISIONS

What was the moment that propelled you to go ahead with your idea and start your business?

I wanted to create something that was more meaningful to me in the health food space. I am now proud to have created a sustainable company, which means that we’re actually doing something good and giving back to society – and to the whole world in the end.  On a personal level I found it great, as it’s something that I can think about everyday, but at the same time the wider consequences make it even more worthwhile.

How did you start your company?

I started it a little over a year ago, in April 2O15. I set up a Kickstarter campaign and raised the initial £10’000, I then got private investment over the summer.  That meant that we could launch at a much bigger scale, improve the brand, improve the publicity and start participating in trade shows – and that’s what I have been focusing on for the past year. I enjoy trade shows and events as I find it very encouraging to see people’s reactions to our products. Generally people see our cricket flour as a flour product rather than as a whole insect. On top of that, I see a huge improvement in the number of people who have heard about this trend compared to three weeks or twelve months ago. There is really a lot happening in this area, which makes it even more exciting.

Why did you choose to do a bar?

The reason for creating bars is because it is a healthy product whilst also being an indulgent snack, which we thought people would be happy to try. It is relatively easy to develop as well.

Did you create the recipes for the bars yourself?

Yes, I started experimenting in my kitchen, as I love cooking. I came out with a selection of ingredients and flavor combinations and also talked with our manufacturer about what actually worked with our target audience. It was a dialogue between us before we reached a decision and eventually just went for it! We had no idea whether it was going to work or not because the manufacturer had never worked with cricket flour before. Nevertheless, it turned out pretty well in the end!

Where do you manufacture your health bars and source your cricket flour?

Our manufacturer is based in the UK and we import our cricket flour from insect farms in Canada.

How many people are working with you right now?

I have two part time people that are working with me: someone for social media and someone for field sales.

How are you building your brand awareness?

Social media is hugely important to us and we try to make it fun with competitions. The trade shows are also really important for us. Additionally, we have a PR campaign running at the moment.

Have you thought about exporting Crobar internationally?

It is really a matter of the price point being a problem to be honest. As the price can’t really come down we would only be able to sell to the elite of those countries. It is something that I would think about in the future though because lots of segments of people are already very wealthy and the middle class is getting wealthy, so it’s definitely something that I would love to do if possible.

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CRITICAL CHALLENGES

What has been the biggest challenge with Crobar?

It is always a challenge to convince shops to stock the product. Especially because the health food space in the UK is traditionally vegan & vegetarian. Even if the customers want the product you have to convince the retailer that he or she has to give it a try. Every now and then you also get one person that is completely against trying our products, but with a little explaining they usually change their minds within 30 seconds. Explaining the product is something that’s probably going to be the biggest challenge for the next years to come.

Is being the first one to have developed such a product in the UK a challenge as much as it is an advantage?

Yes, definitely. We are completely new and we have to have rational arguments and convince people that it is actually something that you can eat and not something disgusting! It’s all about changing people’s mind sets and perceptions. I studied psychology at University and found it fascinating. Today I enjoy nothing more than meeting a person who’s never heard about cricket based products and when after a bit of explaining they taste it and you’ve already converted them.

What has been the most upsetting thing that has happened to you since you started your business?

Obviously, when customers are unhappy about something it is always upsetting, or when shops say they’ll stock us and then change their minds. But things like that can happen.

What has been the biggest risk you have taken so far?

At the moment I am devoting my whole life to this business so the biggest risk is that it doesn’t take off! I do believe though that the business is going to take off, as I can see that there are huge shifts in consumer perceptions already. I would be quite proud about it if it’s a success!

SUCCESS SECRETS

What has been your biggest success so far?

Winning the first prize at the World Food and Innovation awards.

How do you manage to balance your personal and professional life?

Having your own business does take over your whole life. In order to do not-urgent or mundane things over the weekends I will do urgent or interesting things, like connecting with people during the week. I also never reply to emails that can wait until Monday. It is really difficult in the first two years and you probably need to be around for longer and have a few employees that you can count on.

Did you ever consider having a partner with you to build your business?

The private investors have been helping out a lot with financial strategic advice, so we are in a way partners.

Where do you see Gathr Foods going in five or ten year’s time?

I think we’ll be selling in supermarkets next year, which means that we will get the food products out to more people, who don’t necessarily shop in health shops.

What are other products you intend to develop under the Gathr Foods umbrella?

We intend to launch products under the Gathr Foods brand such as crackers, crisps, flours and bread, early next year.

Why do you think that consumers’ perceptions are gradually evolving?

I believe many more people have heard about the benefits of consuming insects from different sources in the media, such as news articles. Nowadays there is also an increasing amount of companies offering insect based food products which means that few people have not heard about it one way or the other.

REBEL WRAP UP

Have you always had an entrepreneurial mindset?

I’ve always been kind of quirky, and up for challenges. Pretty much straight after university I knew I wanted to have my own company.

What kind of advice would you give to someone who wants to start his or her own company?

It’s a lot of ups and downs, that’s for sure. You just really have to believe in yourself, no matter what. You have to try to connect with people who are similar to you. You need lots of energy. You have to enjoy what you do, and start something that really interests you, or you won’t get over the downs. Those are some of the most important things in my opinion.

Do you think that people are going to continue eating more insects and sustainable foods?

I do think so, definitely.

Finally, do you have a favorite insect based recipe?

My favorite recipe has got to be cricket flour pancakes.

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About The Author

Carmen Ferguson
Contributor

Endlessly curious, Carmen lives for discovery each day, embracing the mantra ‘question everything’. Originally from the French mountains, Carmen is an avid cook and big advocator of healthy living and wellness - aspiring to positively impact the lives of others through her work. She launched her entrepreneurial beginnings with an internship at a fledging start-up called ALT. MILK and is now involved in all things marketing and coffee at the innovative start-up IKAWA.

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