Gavriel Tan and John Lee are final year students of the Polytechnic Republic (RP). They were eager to get internships abroad, but unfortunately Covid-19 had dampened their plans.
When they learned that they could replace their internships with their school’s incubation acceleration program, they decided to apply.
At the same time, they had occasioned a book by the United Nations entitled “Edible Insects: Future Food and Security Prospects.” He ignited his interest in turning insects into functional food products and the idea of protein bars made with cricket-based flour arose.
This innovative idea gave them a $ 10,000 grant prototype to start their business. He called Altimate Nutrition (Altimate is a pun on “alternative” and “definitive”), claims to be Singapore’s first company to create insect food for humans.
Crickets are high in protein
Altimate Nutrition essentially converts the extracted cricket flour into nutritious and sustainable food products.
“We chose protein bars because it’s a family food product that is often consumed by athletes and people who lead an active lifestyle, which are our initial target segments,” Gavriel said.
Now, its target audience has shifted to focus more on health-conscious young people and the environment and working adults.
In addition, they considered that the existing protein bars on the market are not sustainable (in terms of protein source) and are not as nutritious as insect protein bars.
When asked why they chose to make protein bars with cricket-based flour, Gavriel explained that crickets are actually a complete source of protein (over 70% protein content) with the nine essential amino acids. They are also rich in essential micronutrients such as vitamin B12 and iron.
In addition to their nutritional attributes, they also chose to use cricket protein flour for its resource efficiency. Aside from these factors, it is certainly a challenge for them to get consumers to overcome the ick factor.
“People always have this stigma that associates insects with negative connotations such as poverty and dirt. However, all of our products have been successfully subjected to microbial testing and nutritional testing to demonstrate that they meet safe food standards for consumption, ”Gavriel said.
He added that instead of focusing too much on their origin, they play their products as a nutritional supplement all in one.
“We highlight the nutritional properties of insects such as crickets and how they can help strengthen our food and nutritional security.”
Although they faced constant criticism because no one will be convinced to consume insects, they took it as constructive feedback and continued with product development.
“When it was time to do our sensory evaluation, our experts were impressed (that) our products performed better than other commercial protein bars we compared against.”
They spent six months creating their first products
Altimate Nutrition began during the circuit breaker period, which severely impaired its progress.
Due to the blockade of their school and food research lab, they were unable to access the necessary equipment, which led them to guess their ability to create flavored food products that everyone will enjoy.
They both modified their formulations several times and it took almost six months to reach their first two flavors: double chocolate and peanut butter cinnamon.
“There was no recipe that we could easily find online related to insect-based food products, so we had to do a lot of research, trial and error for our proposed formulations,” Gavriel lamented.
Due to the novelty of their insect-based food product, it was not easy for them to find well-informed people in this area and they had to do a lot of self-learning by reading academic articles, books and similar articles.
“Fortunately, with the help of our school, we met relatives of the food industry who helped us accelerate product development. Initially, the responses were quite skeptical and people were not very receptive to the idea when we invite to taste products ”.
However, once they tried our products, they were especially impressed by the taste and the “normal” that was made to consume insect products. Most of them also expressed their interest in consuming them again or even buying them once we take them to market ”.
Entering the field of alternative proteins
Both are biotechnology students, but Gavriel specializes in food science (with a Plus Diploma in Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship), while John specializes in research.
With these skill sets, they relied on delving into the field of alternative proteins, despite being their first venture.
When asked about the reactions of his family and friends when they broke the news about Altimate Nutrition, Gavriel revealed that many initially doubted his abilities to develop and market such a new product, especially one with such a small ingredient. orthodox: insect flour.
“There were also a lot of uncertainties, which we wouldn’t call criticism, as we usually take them as constructive comments to help improve our ideas,” Gavriel said.
“Being young to start a business in a surprising way did not give as many negative answers as we expected. Instead, the community around us gave a lot of support to our idea and even offered to help us at all times of the trip so far, ”he said, adding that they also received much support from the RP Entrepreneurship Development Office.
A matter of time before insects become a form of staple food
Altimate Nutrition is currently pending approval by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA). Once approved, they seek to establish collaborations to distribute their products.
“Currently, we’re talking to a few retailers, gyms, lifestyle stores, and“ green, ”sustainable stores, Gavriel said, adding that they run at a retail price of $ 5S.
As they approach the marketing phase, they also seek to raise funds and apply for other grants.
Commenting on the food technology industry, Gavriel believes that one of the biggest growth sectors is alternative proteins, which can be derived from plants, farmed meat and insects.
“The food technology industry is certainly a booming industry, especially in Singapore, where a lot of attention is being paid to food security.”
“Globally, there is a need for new food innovations to curb our current unsustainable meat production. As the world’s population continues to grow, new food innovations will allow us to fight growing problems such as climate change, the inhuman treatment of animals associated with today’s food ecosystem.
Going forward, Gavriel said Altimate Nutrition plans to take control of its products from the farm to the fork and build an automated cricket farm in Singapore by the end of next year.
He also shared that they are now working on a few new flavors and does not rule out the possibility of launching other cricket products in the future, such as pasta, chips, muffins and smoothies.
“The world is slowly but surely finding a way to incorporate insects as a staple food. It will happen whether we like it or not, because our finite resources will end up driving humanity to look for an alternative source that will complement the growing demand for food. “
Featured Image Credit: Altimate Nutrition