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Pat Crowley is a passionate advocate for sustainability. After years of trying to support water conservation through regulation and legislation, he made the leap to crickets. Crowley will be pitching Chapul, the world’s first energy bar made from insects, on Shark Tank tonight, March 21, on ABC.
“We thought we were five to 10 years too early for this, but when we started it was more about spreading the idea than making money,” admits Crowley. “Then we realized we’re right at the pinnacle of people being open to it. There is an increased consciousness of where our food comes from and a desire for alternative food sources.”
Agriculture accounts for between 70 and 90 percent of our freshwater usage around the world. A large portion of that goes into raising the millions of cows and pigs humans eat every year. And that is where the crickets come in. Currently it takes 10 pounds of irrigation-intensive grain to produce one pound of beef or three pounds of pork. That same 10 pounds can produce a whopping eight pounds of insect protein.
“Creating change from the regulatory side was extremely difficult when there was a consumer demand telling farmers to do the opposite,” Crowley said. Then in 2011, on his way home from work, he listened to a TED Talk on the benefits of an insect diet. Looking at it from the water conservation perspective, he immediately realized this might be the solution he’d been searching for.
“I wanted to create an agricultural industry for the insects, but it didn’t make sense until there was a consumer demand,” he said. “Creating a product and selling it online was my answer to creating the demand.”
So Crowley recruited a few friends, including a culinary scientist, and got to work perfecting Chapul cricket bars. They knew their biggest hurdle was creating a product that could overcome Americans’ aversion to eating insects. Fortunately the entrepreneurs found the perfect model to leverage: sushi.
“The sushi industry really struggled in the 60s and early 70s, then a chef strategically created the California Roll,” explains Crowley. By replacing the raw tuna with avocado and turning the nori inside out to change the texture, sushi worked for the Western palate. Celebrity interest created a tipping point, and now raw fish is embraced across the U.S.
Chapul has taken a similar approach. First the crickets are turned into a fine powder, eliminating the look and texture often associated with insects. Then they add a variety of gourmet goodies to the bars. The original Chaco flavor includes chocolate, peanuts, honey, walnuts and dates. The end result is an all-natural energy bar that is high in protein, iron and Omega-3 acids with no cholesterol and very little fat.
“These are the best bars I have tasted in years,” wrote one customer in his review of the Chaco flavor. “I used to buy Clif Bars. They were good. But after tasting these bars I’m hooked for life.”
Crowley doesn’t expect everyone will embrace his insect innovation. “What do we tell people that don’t like it? Nothing,” he said. “We are completely focused on the positive. Sometimes it is hard to change the way you think, but there are plenty of people who are ready.”
But what will the celebrity investors on Shark Tank think of Crowley’s bars? Since their successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012, Chapul has grown in production and revenue every single month for the past two years. And beyond their initial crowdfunding, they’ve bootstrapped the entire business.
“We put our mission first and foremost,” said Crowley. “But we have to be profitable to be sustainable. We are well aware we can’t rely on altruism alone.”
Shark Tank was the first time Crowley has pitched investors. He asked for $50,000 for a five percent stake in the company to help accelerate growth. The faster Chapul grows, the more demand they create for insects, which circles back to the their mission.
Do you think Mark Cuban or Daymond John will bite on Crowley’s cause commerce model? Tune in to ABC on Friday, March 21 at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT to find out. You can also catch the episode starting Saturday on Hulu.
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