The following is an edited transcript of Tom Martin’s interview with Dror Tamir, co-founder and CEO of Hargol FoodTech of Israel. The interview was conducted at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference.
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Tom Martin: Selected from more than 180 applicants, Hargol FoodTech of Israel is among the 10 innovative food and agriculture ventures around the world brought to Lexington to make its case for investment. Co-founder and CEO Dror Tamir is among presenters in The Pearse Lyons Accelerator program — his latest stop in what has been an enormously successful whirlwind world quest. Hargol is in the grasshopper business. Dror, thank you for joining us.
Dror Tamir: You’re welcome. Happy to be here.
Tom: We’re pleased you’re here, especially given all the traveling that you’ve been doing. We’ll get into that in just a moment because it’s very interesting. But first, I have to ask, edible grasshoppers. Do tell.
Dror: Yes. Well, I can start with the story about the expected increase in global demand of protein. It is expected to double by 2050. And we all know that existing protein sources have their limitations. So the demand for alternative, high-quality protein will skyrocket. That’s one story.
The other story is grasshoppers are the most widely eaten insect in the world, by about 2 billion people worldwide, mainly in regions where there is a lack of protein in people’s diet. Today, they just collect them in the wild, and it means that they have a very limited season of four to six weeks. We will enable them to farm them year-round and reduce their cost significantly.
Tom: I understand that you have developed a way to lengthen the normally short breeding season of edible grasshoppers. Is that correct?
Dror: A little bit different. What we did was shorten the eggs’ incubation period. In the wild, it takes about 40 weeks for the eggs to hatch, which means they can have one cycle a year. And what we did, we incubate in an incubator the eggs and we reduce the period to two weeks, meaning that we can have 10 cycles per year.
Tom: And how did you come up on this idea? What instigated it?
Dror: The funny story is, I’m an accountant. So accountants have very strange ideas. But the real story is, my previous startup, Plate My Meal, is dealing with obesity prevention and, while working about that startup, I learned about malnutrition and the lack of protein in people’s diet. So as an entrepreneur, when you see a big problem, you start looking for a solution, and I came up with grasshoppers.
Tom: When we think of grasshoppers, of course, especially in this country, we think of a bug. However, there are other parts of the world where it’s nothing at all to have a handful of grasshoppers. What is the end product like? Is it a powder? Or is it a grasshopper?
Dror: Yes. Just south of the U.S., you have Mexico, and the local grasshoppers called chapulines are a national dish. You have tens of millions of Mexicans in the U.S., and the demand for grasshoppers is high, and there is no supply of them. So when we look at the market potential and the opportunities, we look at two different products. One is, we mill the grasshoppers into a protein powder. We sell it to food manufacturers that produce healthy foods based on it. And we also sell to restaurants in Southern U.S. And that’s about 35 percent of the demand that we see from the market.
What does a grasshopper taste like?
Tom: I have to ask, what does a grasshopper taste like? Not chicken, I’m sure.
Dror: I’m using that answer, usually. The thing is this: The grasshopper is almost neutral in taste and flavor, so the actual taste depends on the way you cook it. So you can get a taste that feels like shrimps or small fish, a nutty taste, or even a wheaty taste.
Tom: Tell me about the company’s former name and why you changed it to its current name.
Dror: Oh, that’s a good question. Former name was Steak TzarTzar, and, actually, everything started as a joke because steak tartare, we all know what it is. And tzartzar in Hebrew means crickets. So it started like that. And the name really caught, and people really liked it until we had our first investor from the U.S., and said we cannot pronounce tzartzar, you have to change the name. So we came up with Hargol, and that’s the name of the kosher grasshopper from the Bible.
Winning global competitions with grasshopper genius
Tom: Now, as we mentioned earlier, you’ve been experiencing quite a whirlwind of excitement in recent weeks. How is this interest in your product influencing your plans for the future?
Dror: That’s a complicated question to answer. What happened in recent weeks, we got a lot of attention and attraction from all over the world, and it means that it’s hard for us to maintain the focus we had. Our focus is on the U.S. market. We want to produce an ingredient to food manufacturers. Keep it simple with a single product to a specific market. And the attraction from all over the world, from Europe, from Africa, from Asia, means that there’s very high demand for whole grasshoppers frozen, freeze-dried, roasted, for powders of all kinds of species of grasshoppers, and we have to maintain focus on what our plans are and keep all these new opportunities to a later stage of the company.
Tom: You have a great deal of momentum going for you right now, and you are in the midst of some pretty serious globetrotting. Can you describe for me what the past week or so has been like for you in your travels?
Dror: The past actually three weeks, since we finished the Alltech Accelerator in Dublin. We’ve been working hard with their team, with (the) Dogpatch team and Alltech, to perfect our pitch. And the moment we finished that demo day, three weeks ago, we applied to several competitions, startup pitching competitions, five of them, actually, and we won all five. Some of them are in Israel. Some of them are international. The largest one, just two days ago in Singapore, with over 10,000 startups from over 100 countries, and it’s unbelievable for us to imagine that grasshoppers could beat all these amazing technologies. I can only tell that this is the hard work of Alltech and Dogpatch with us to get the pitch to that level.
Could grasshoppers be the next sushi?
Tom: How do you envision your concept — and I should interject here that I understand that you’re targeting two different markets, the grasshoppers themselves and also the protein supplement, I suppose. How do you envision these concepts affecting the average consumer’s diet or the dinner table?
Dror: Well, as we see it, the new protein sources, it will take them a long time to replace existing protein sources. It’s hard to change our behavior, our habits. So it’s the same as it was with sushi. In the ’80s, no one would ever try raw fish in the U.S., and now it’s common food you can find everywhere and it’s really cheap. And we believe that it will be like that. It will be only insects or only grasshoppers. You will have a variety of new protein sources: plant-based, algae-based, cultured meat maybe, and many, many other sources. And eventually, they will become part of our diet. And we will have, because of that, many new food applications that we will be able to find in the market, and we also see it getting into the pet food industry and feed industry as well.
Grasshoppers … on Mars?
Tom: There’s a lot of lore around this insect, many stories, and I know that you have plenty of them. Can you give us a few?
Dror: Sure. Let’s do some amazing facts about grasshoppers and insects. First, grasshoppers have been around on Earth before the dinosaurs. They’re an ancient, very efficient creature. Second thing, grasshoppers are the only kosher and halal insect in the world. They are mentioned on Leviticus as kosher. Actually, that’s the name of the company, Hargol. And the last thing is that’s our vision in Hargol FoodTech and it will be that missions to Mars will have insects as part of the closed system to support humans on this long and challenging trip.
Tom: And why is that?
Dror: Because insects first are really efficient, and they provide zero-waste farming, meaning they can use any waste generated by humans and plants and generate with that protein and fat for the uses of both humans and plants.
Tom: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Dror: It’s fun. We’re having so much fun. We’re having so much laugh about it, so many jokes. The joke I like the most is that our CTO Chanan Aviv, for over 30 years, has been growing, breeding and eating a wide variety of insects, and this is why he is the only guy with hair on his head on our team.
Tom: Dror Tamir with Hargol, which is among the 10 companies chosen for The Pearse Lyons Accelerator program. Thank you for being with us.
Dror: Thank you very much.
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