Throw another 'land shrimp' on the grill: Alberta crickets coming to a plate near you

A farm just west of Edmonton will soon be offering cricket powder. It has a small environmental footprint and could be a valuable source of protein as more people look for meat alternatives and ways to feed a growing population.

Alberta entrepreneurs hoping to capitalize on bug-based eating with province's first cricket farm

One of the crickets living inside the cricket condos located at Camola Farm. (Gaetan Lamarre/CBC)

Plant-based diets are becoming more common, but could bug-based eating be the next step?

The success of Beyond Meat — the company beat Wall Street's first quarter earnings and revenue forecasts — has put meat alternatives in the mainstream.

Two Alberta entrepreneurs are now trying to capitalize on bug-based eating with the province's first cricket farm in Wildwood, 115 kilometres west of Edmonton.

Claudio La Rocca is the co-founder of Camola Foods along with his business partner Silvia Ronzani. La Rocca is hoping to put his background in entomology, environmental science and biology to use.

"We come from a [place of] understanding about insects and the impact of food on the environment and what's the cost in terms of environmental impacts of food," La Rocca said. "About three to four years ago we started learning a bit more about entomophagy, so … eating insects."

Claudio La Rocca, co-founder of Camola Foods, is ready to launch a locally-sourced cricket powder in Alberta. (Gaetan Lamarre/CBC)

La Rocca was first exposed to edible bugs during his time at the University of Alberta when a lab partner brought in some dried and salted grasshoppers. While he was intrigued, he knew many would struggle with the idea of eating bugs.

"We're both Italian, we like good cuisine, we like good cooking," La Rocca said. "Why don't we just make some regular recipes … and just put a little bit of the cricket powder."

The company already offers a few bug-based treats using a powder produced in Ontario, including the "Bugscotti" — the company's take on the classic Italian biscotti.   

Cricket powder adds protein and vitamins to a recipe, according to La Rocca. Farming crickets is also much more sustainable than more traditional farms and it can help feed a growing global population.

"Our impact is lower, we need less land. Everything is contained and we don't have to destroy an entire field just for some hay." La Rocca said.

The first eggs hatched a few days ago and the cricket condos will be at full capacity in four to five weeks. That's enough crickets to make nearly 140 kilograms of powder, La Rocca said.

One of the many cricket condos located at Camola Farms. It has food and water for the crickets. Each drawer can hold about 10,000 to 15,000 residents. (Gaetan Lamarre/CBC)

He said it will be the first time Albertans will have access to a locally produced cricket powder. Currently, the only Canadian option is from a producer in Ontario.

"There's going to be more — no pun intended — appetite for insects because people will want more of a protein they can trust, they know where it comes from and it's also healthy."

La Rocca said a younger clientele is starting to take interest in their product, but there's still a marketing challenge ahead.

"We don't eat cows, we eat beef." La Rocca said. "that detachment from the animal to the final product kind of helps people to get over the idea that an animal was killed."

Branding insects can be a bit more complicated. La Rocca said some companies use the word "bug" while they try to emphasize the sustainability aspect of their product along with the protein content.

Camola Food's "Bug Bites" are already available at some farmers markets and select grocery stores. The bites are made with cricket powder from Ontario, but the company will soon have it's own cricket powder to offer the market. (Camola Foods)

"Some people had the idea to call them, as a joke, land shrimps," La Rocca said. "Crickets and shrimps are quite close in their evolution … you could use that term, but at the end of the day, it's a little far fetched."

La Rocca doesn't recommend walking into a field and eating random "land shrimps" but he said that generally most insects are edible.

The company's products can already be found at farmers markets and in select grocery stores. La Rocca expects the cricket powder will be available by the end of June.