“The first time I tasted grasshoppers was also the first time I ever touched one,” remembers Dror Tamir, cofounder and CEO of Hargol FoodTech—the world’s first commercial grasshopper farmer. “It was at a tasting event we held three years ago with representatives from Uganda and Japan. A CNN crew filmed the event, so I tried to be cool and funny. I was sure I nailed my performance… until I saw the photos of me eating a grasshopper. I was terrified and my face said it all!”
That was three years ago. Today, Tamir eats grasshoppers without hesitation. Even his two young sons eat them African style—fried in a pan with a little oil and salt. “And they love it!” Tamir says.
Hargol FoodTech was born in 2014 while Tamir—an accountant by profession, who for the past 13 years has been an entrepreneur working on food and nutrition ventures—was working on his second startup in this field, Plate my Meal, which strives to solve world’s obesity epidemic.
“While working on Plate my Meal, I also learned about malnutrition and the lack of protein in children’s diet,” Tamir says. “As an entrepreneur, when you see a big problem, you start looking for solutions and grasshoppers are that solution.”
When Tamir started looking for alternative protein sources for malnourished populations in Africa and Asia, he focused his research on existing protein sources. He learned about insects being an important part of billions around the globe’s diet and that grasshoppers were the most widely eaten insect in the world. He was surprised to find out that 99.9 percent of supply comes from collection in the wild with a very limited seasonal availability of four to six weeks a year. Realizing this led to a clear understanding that a grasshopper farm providing year-round production would have a high demand for its product while also helping to feed the hungry world.
Insect magician Chanan Aviv, who for over 30 years has been growing, breeding, and eating insects, and operations specialist Ben Friedman joined Tamir on his journey. Aviv, the company’s CTO, went out to the fields and started collecting dozens of grasshopper species. Then he started acclimatizing them, breeding them, and hatching their eggs.
“Over phone calls and email, it sounded almost like the poultry industry, but when I went into the facility itself and saw the cages filled with grasshoppers, I was shocked,” Tamir recalls. “It was a completely new scene for me and still every time I go into one of our growing rooms it feels like stepping into a sci-fi movie.”
Hargol FoodTech’s head office is located in Misgav in northern Israel and the grasshopper farm is located in Elifelet, just over the sea of Galilee. At the moment, the company has seven employees and hundreds of thousands of grasshoppers, and it is growing on both counts. The first three years were hard, as Tamir and his team found it challenging to convince investors to believe in their unique product. However, in the last year, they felt a change: Investors are reaching out, leading food and beverage manufacturers are approaching them, and just last month they scooped up a victory at the 2017 Tel Aviv Creator Awards, in which they won the top prize in the Scale category and pocketed $360,000. “After a long walk in the desert, we feel like we are starting to see the first signs of success,” Tamir says.
There are no food products containing grasshoppers yet, as there is no grasshopper supply—Hargol FoodTech is a first mover—but there are many food products containing crickets and mealworms: energy bars, protein shakes, pasta sauce, pasta, cookies, chips, beer, and ice cream, to name a few. Tamir is certain that grasshoppers will soon be on that list, too.
“The wonderful thing about grasshoppers is that there is no need to extract the protein. The nutritional content of a grasshopper is so good, all you need to do is dry and mill the whole animal—meaning minimal processing,” Tamir explains. “There is high demand for whole grasshoppers from the U.S.A. and European restaurants and snacks producers, so we will be selling whole grasshoppers as well,” Tamir says. “But most of our sales will be of grasshopper protein powder sold to food manufacturers.”
With help from the winnings at the Creator Awards, the future looks green and jumpy. “In five years time, we plan to establish industrial scale grasshopper farms across the globe with local partners in each market,” Tamir says. “We expect to provide better protein to humans, pets, and animals. I see the potential of grasshoppers becoming as common as sushi. Thirty years ago, eating raw fish also sounded disgusting in the West.”
Tamir’s message to other creators working in fields that are new and uncertain? “Never give up,” he says. “When everyone tells you you’re strange, when no one wants to invest in you, when everything looks dark—if you believe in what you do, and believe that you can change the world—do it.”