Like many Americans, twin brothers Lars and Dave Baugh, 29, start their mornings with a homemade breakfast smoothie—a blend of kale, celery, almond milk, and some frozen fruit. Nothing too out of the ordinary. That is, except for the final ingredient: cricket protein.
“We eat crickets every day,” says Lars, who co-founded Lithic Nutrition, a Colorado-based, health-foods company, with his brother in October 2016. “This is the next superfood craze.”
The idea came to Dave during his military tour with the Marines in Asia, where he sampled numerous insects throughout Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The brothers started working on the business in 2014. “There are cultures where this isn’t even something you think about; it’s just food and nutrition,” Dave says. “It made us realize there has to be a way to introduce this into American culture. Our answer was using crickets and turning them into a powder format to remove all visual aspects of what Americans might consider a squeamish food.”
According to a 2013 United Nations report, some two billion people—nearly 30 percent of the world’s population—supplement their diets with insect protein. Not only are bugs bountiful, experts say, but their protein is also considered more sustainable and nutritious than traditional sources. Crickets, in particular, are easy to cultivate, and their protein is packed with nutrition. “On a per-gram basis, [cricket protein] has more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, and more vitamin B12 and omega-3s than salmon,” Dave says.
Cultivating cricket protein requires one-twelfth the feed input per pound of protein yield, the company’s website states, and only a fraction of water output compared to traditional animal-protein production. It’s also a good alternative protein source for those with food allergies or sensitivities. “People have been eating insects for thousands of years,” Lars says. “Our bodies know exactly what to do with them.”
Lithic Nutrition’s current line of products includes a cricket-plant protein blend (available in October); three protein-bar varieties (banana bread, blueberry vanilla, and dark-chocolate brownie); and 100-percent pure cricket powder. All are labeled non-GMO, gluten free, lactose free, soy free, and Paleo friendly.
Lars and Dave manage the entire manufacturing process in their 1,000-square-foot Aurora facility. From importing cricket powder from Thailand to hand-making and packaging their protein bars, the brothers strive to be transparent with their business. “It gives us total quality control,” Dave says. “I can go to bed knowing about every ingredient, how it’s made, where it’s from, and who has their hands on it.”
And the industry is taking note. In November 2016, Lithic Nutrition won first place in the community division of University of Colorado Denver’s business-plan competition, totaling $9,500 in winnings. In July, the company won the regional competition in the Miller Lite Tap the Future competition in Houston, earning $20,000 and a chance to compete at the end of September for the $100,000 national prize.
To further their reach, the brothers are also creating a cookbook incorporating cricket protein into everyday recipes, set to debut in October. “This is an introduction of this superfood to the American-food culture,” Lars says. “We’re going to continue to develop products that demonstrate its versatility in food and superior nutrition qualities.”