This year, the world’s largest—and most advanced—cricket factory ramped up operations, heralding a new era of sustainable protein production for animal feed and more.
The majority of crickets produced at Aspire’s brand new 150,000 sq ft facility will go to premium pet food companies in whole and frozen form. Crickets and cricket protein powder are also used in livestock and aquaculture feed and in human food. In August, Lotte Confectionery of Korea became the exclusive distributor of Aspire Food Group products in the country.
The advanced technology in the factory makes it sustainable and very efficient, explains CEO Mohammed Ashour.
“We created a vertical automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) to handle 95,000 ‘tones’ in circulation at full production,” he says. “Some are breeder bags where the eggs are laid and then the 30,000 ‘pinheads’ – hatched eggs – are placed in growth crates with water, feed and substrate. We will start full production by the end of the year. Now we are testing robotics. The plant employs more than 90 employees, many of whom are trained to operate the plant. This kind of plant has never been built before, with the level of automation and sensors we’ve developed to keep the crickets healthy. We developed IoT technology with a telecommunications company and combined it with our AI system.”
A sustainable project
As an ingredient, insects are a very sustainable source of protein and fat for many reasons. They are very efficient feed diverters and in the case of black soldier fly larvae can eat food waste. Canadian firm Enterra is building a new plant near Calgary, Alberta that will use food waste to grow Black Soldier fly (BSF) to further meet market demand in the pet food, poultry and wild bird feed industries in North America and Europe. In the case of Aspire crickets (“home crickets” that are calm in large groups, thrive in low light and have an attractive nutritional profile) they are fed a modified chicken feed formula, mainly ground soy and corn.
Cricket waste, called frass, is sold by Aspire as a rich fertilizer and soil amendment. All substrates and by-products of the Aspire manufacturing process are recovered, ensuring that nothing goes to landfill. The substrate in the containers, coconut fiber, is composted. When the factory moves to full capacity by the end of 2022, it will produce 20,000 metric tons of crickets and frass annually.
Funding, history and future
The construction of the plant was supported by approximately €769,000 from Sustainable Development Technology Canada, in addition to several other government loans and grants, as well as significant private capital and Aspire’s own significant investment in research and development. Ashour says no other company in the world has produced a body of research that comes close to Aspire’s growing library on cricket production. Aspire has 176 independent inventions and 11 patents.
In 2013, the founders of Aspire won the Hult Prize.
In 2014, Aspire built a pilot plant for the cultivation of weevil larvae in Ghana with KNUST University. It is now a spin-off company called Legendary Foods Africa). Aspire began conducting research and development in Mexico when launching a pilot cricket manufacturing plant in Austin, Texas, and in 2017 built a plant/research and development facility there.
“We are very excited to expand our extensive high-tech sustainable protein production to full scale,” says Ashour. “We’re excited to be doing something that no one has done before.