With sustainability being a top consumer concern in the food industry, companies are constantly looking for ways to appeal to their target demographic through sustainable product production. As the trend for using insects as a source of sustainable protein grows, major insect protein manufacturers Aspire Food Group and Exo have merged to “create new products and fuel future growth.”
Austin, Texas-based Aspire Food Group is known for its sustainability efforts in the production of environmentally friendly cricket and weevil larvae protein. Their recent acquisition of Exo, a maker of cricket-based protein bars, allows the company to diversify their product portfolio with more cricket protein products. Under the terms of this acquisition, Aspire’s cricket protein products under their Aketta brand will undergo a full rebranding to Exo products. Exo’s line of cricket protein bars will exclusively be sourced from Aspire’s cricket protein. After successful transitioning, the cofounders of Exo, Greg Sewitz and Gabi Lewis, will be moving on to different opportunities.
“Aspire is the Procter & Gamble and Exo is the Gillette – on a much more humble scale right now,” Mohammed Ashour, co-founder of Aspire Food Group, told Forbes.
The two co-founders, Sewitz and Ashour, first spoke about a potential acquisition at the Forbes Top 30 Under 30 Summit in 2016 where the two were awarded.
“Last year we developed Aketta in-house, but very honestly we’ve always had our eyes on Exo,” said Ashour to Forbes. “It is one of the most successful, if not the most successful, brands in the entire industry. Rather than try to re-invent the wheel, we wanted to have an honest and open dialogue and what we feel it takes to get there. There was such a great meeting of minds it very quickly evolved into Aspire acquiring Exo. The synergy and logic just make sense.”
Aspire’s and Exo’s common mission and ingredients seem to be a perfect match for the growing insect market. Aspire is known to produce Aketta brand cricket flour, cricket protein granola and whole roasted crickets. In addition, Exo’s protein bars are made from cricket flour which is paleo friendly, gluten-free, soy-free, dairy free and grain free. Both companies use a mix of fruits, nuts and natural flavorings to produce palatable sweet products. Aspire’s savory whole cricket products include original, Texas BBQ, Totally Taco, sour cream and onion, sea salt and vinegar and spicy hot flavors.
“By joining together under one enterprise and seizing on the opportunity for vertical integration, we are taking Aspire and our newly acquired brand, Exo, to the next level,” said Ashour to Food Business News. “With Exo’s products and community and Aspire’s farming technology leadership, we are greatly reinforcing our pioneering position within this rapidly emerging industry.”
According to Exo’s website, about 80 percent of the world already consumes crickets regularly because they are much more sustainable than meat farms. The production of cricket protein generates virtually no methane gas and requires minimal feed, water and space. Exo’s research finds that the amount of feed needed to produce 60 pounds of cricket protein is equivalent to the amount of feed that can produce 30 pounds of chicken protein, 15 pounds of pork protein and five pounds of beef protein. In terms of water usage, crickets require a gallon of water to produce the same amount of protein that 567 gallons of water can for chickens, 800 gallons can for pigs and 2,000 gallons can for cows. The greenhouse gas emissions produced in the production of cricket protein is only one percent of what cows produce.
Although most Western consumers shy away from insect-based foods, the sustainability aspect of its production is a good factor to use for changing their minds. With the insect protein bars market expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 42 percent up to 2023, Aspire is well positioned in this segment with their recent Exo acquisition. In addition, their other products are likely to experience growth as well because the bug-based flour segment is also expected to grow at a CAGR of 42 percent and is estimated to surpass $165 million by 2023.
“Combining product lines and supply chains better equips us to succeed in our shared mission of fighting global food insecurity and promote insects as a healthy, everyday food source,” Ashour said. “This is a giant leap forward for the whole edible insect industry.”