Thoughts from Chapul's van driver and director...
Mark Cuban & Central Market
We had a great time last week in Dallas, Texas launching Chapul into Central Market. To help with the launch, we were joined by Mark Cuban and his dedicated all-star team. That’s right, Mark rolled up his sleeves, put on the Chapul apron, and helped us hand out samples to Central Market customers at three of their locations. For those of you that aren’t aware, Mark became an investor in Chapul during Season 5, Episode 21 of ABC’s hit show, Shark Tank in March of 2014. Since then, he and his staff have been tremendously helpful, and we would not be experiencing the growth that we are without them. This past week definitely felt like we had gained much more than an investor, but truly felt like we had joined the team, as we demoed our Chapul cricket bars next to other Mark Cuban companies like Monkey Mat and Simple Sugars.
It couldn’t have taken place in a better environment either, as Central Market is such a great fit for our bars. In the 20 years they have been open they have shown a dedicated commitment to high quality standards, bringing in only fresh, healthy, and hand-selected products. We extend a big thank you to their team, as it can often be hard to get onto retail shelves especially because we are 1) a smaller company competing with the larger brands; and 2) introducing a new product and ingredient (yup, cricket flour) never before seen on American shelves.
It certainly helps that our company values are very similarly aligned with Central Market’s. For example, In Central Market’s own words, they “spend every day celebrating what food is all about: bringing people together,” believing that “food is a way of uniting families and communities to one collective dinner table, of preserving our cultures and our traditions. And that is something that should be celebrated every day.” We couldn’t agree more. We are always especially eager to share our mission of providing a healthier, more sustainable food supply to families shopping together.
One of Mark Cuban’s points of pride for his involvement in Shark Tank is that the show is the number one show watched by families in the United States. We obviously share that excitement and of the 8 million viewers who watched our episode, we hope that we inspired at least a few family conversations about food, where it comes from, and how it affects our health and our future. So we again, a big thank you to Central Market and the Mark Cuban team. . .we are happy to have joined the family.
Many people ask us here at Chapul where we came up with our unique flavor profiles, since they certainly break the mold of the traditional energy bar flavors (and not simply because of the addition of our signature cricket flour). Recognizing that Chapul bars are just as much a cultural introduction to insect protein as they are a nutritional product, our flavors are inspired by regions of the world that currently, or historically ate insects. As many of you know by now, an estimated 80% of cultures around the globe have insects on the menu in some form, so we had a wide pool to choose from.
First we began with the Thai bar, inspired by the culinary richness of Thailand, which has perhaps has one of the deepest histories of insect farming. In fact, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is focusing on the region to gain knowledge on insect farming and harvesting techniques developed over many generations (FAO report here) in order to feed our growing global populations. We used the coconut, ginger, and lime flavor profile that make so many Thai dishes as delectable as Tom Kah. We then add that to a gourmet energy bar with an organic date, almond butter, and cashew base, which complement the nutty flavor of our cricket flour well.
Our Aztec bar is inspired by ancient mesoamerican culinary delights from the Aztec culture of Central Mexico. Anecdotes circulate that in Aztecan markets, food vendors would charge more for maize with insects in the kernels, because of the higher nutritional value. Today, chapulines (grasshoppers) are served with chile and lime as a traditional delicacy in the Oaxaca region. Our name Chapul is actually a Nahuatl (language of the Aztecs) word for grasshopper/cricket, which they would sun-dry, then grind into a protein-dense powder, very similar to our cricket flour. We then combine other flavors from the region to create an eye-opening flavor of dark chocolate, coffee, and a anti-oxidant kick of cayenne chili. (Warning: not for the weak of palate.)
Our final bar is the Chaco bar. The name of this bar is inspired by the Chaco people of the Colorado River watershed, the largest pre-Columbian civilization in the area. The Chaco were expert dry-land farmers, who also gathered native insects to supplement their protein intake. The modern all-American flavor profile of peanut butter and chocolate is meant to serve as a reminder to our modern culture that insect-eating was very much a part of our diet in the past. Of course, we couldn’t resist boosting the taste and nutritional quality of the bar with flax seed and cricket flour.
So, in addition to delicious tasting energy bars, we hope that our creations take you on a cultural journey to regions of the world that inspire us here at Chapul.
Our two year anniversary and moving forward
This month marks the 2-year anniversary of Chapul launching the ‘The Original Cricket Bar’ which is the United States’ first insect-based nutritional product using our signature cricket flour. Looking back, it is almost overwhelming to see how much has changed, and how far the industry has progressed in such a short amount of time.
Although we have witnessed the growth of an industry from its very infancy, sometimes it takes an outside perspective on how challenging Chapul’s mission is to understand the magnitude of this change. Case in point came from Larry McMannis, a 30+ year executive at Kraft Foods. Larry moderated a scientific session I had the honor of presenting at last weekend in New Orleans at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual conference titled, Real Pioneers: Experience with Insect Products and Marketing. During his tenure at Kraft, he witnessed the launching of thousands of new products and played a key role in their commercialization. In regards to Chapul’s accomplishments, these are Larry’s words:
“ ...starting from scratch to introduce a new product that was so new to the world that there was no ingredient supplier, no infrastructure, no production methods, no retailer to shelve the product, and a consumer mindset that was actually antagonistic toward the idea, that kind of innovation would NEVER happen [at Kraft]. Never. Ever. Not in a million years.
But it is happening somewhere else. Not in a big food company or on a grand scale yet. Big companies almost never take that kind of risk. Instead, it’s happening in the labs and kitchens of entrepreneurs… the people who want to, and likely will, change the world.”
Here is a copy of Larry’s complete article titled, Cricket: Fuel for Entrepreneurial Champions.
The accomplishments of Chapul warrant that we take pause to pat ourselves on the back. By “ourselves” I refer to the true revolutionaries of the insects as food movement who are the early adopters willing to challenge their daily eating habits. Change does not always come easy, and habits, especially our eating rituals developed day in and day out, can be especially challenging to re-wire. However, when it becomes too strikingly obvious that the majority of food available to consumers is both unhealthy, and detrimental to the natural resources needed to sustain future generations, the true revolutionaries step forward.
So two years ago we took a leap of faith into an unproven market, with an undeveloped supply chain, using an ingredient foreign to our cultural palate. However, as of today we now have Chapul bars on store shelves in 29 states and 5 countries, as well as being witness to several new insect-based startups and the growing insect-farming industry. We had faith that you would indeed step forward. . .and step forward you did. And for that, all of us at Chapul extend a sincere and heartfelt ‘thank you.’ Now go ahead, pat yourselves on the back.