Exo, a protein bar company founded by two 20something entrepreneurs, today announced it has raised a $4 million Series A for a packaged food concept whose key ingredient would give most Americans pause: crickets. Or more specifically, cricket powder.
But hear this New York City startup out. Entomophagy, the technical term for eating insects, provides a sustainable, healthy type of protein that may not be embraced by Americans, but is a well-accepted food source elsewhere in the world. It’s also one that has many beneficial environmental impacts compared to raising livestock, including producing 100 times less greenhouse gases than cows, and packing 65 percent protein by weight.
“Our biggest challenge in a way is a marketing challenge,” said Greg Sewitz, cofounder of Exo. “We have to convince people to give our products a chance, and that there’s no weird buggy flavor, which is what a lot of people think if they’ve never had crickets before.”
To better explain its product, the company mainly sells its chef-made bars in flavors like mango curry and apple cinnamon direct to consumers online, but last month it launched at the supermarket chain Wegmans, and it also sells via Amazon and FreshDirect.
Investors are not squeamish. Leading the round is its previous seed funding investor, New York-based Accel Foods, a food and beverage accelerator. There is also an eclectic list of other investors, including the rapper Nas, attorney-turned-obstacle racer Amelia Boone, Tim Ferriss (author of The 4-Hour Workweek), New York-based the Collaborative Fund, and Grand Rapids, Mich.-based StartGarden. Their newest investors, particularly Nas and Boone will also serve as influencers who can help them spread the word.
The Exo team is about eight or nine people, but it has some luminaries: one is three Michelin star chef Kyle Connaughton, formerly the head chef at the U.K.’s The Fat Duck and culinary director at Chipotle. Then there is Zac Goldberg, who was on the founding team at Groupon, and heads up the company’s e-commerce.