Cricket plant in London, Ont., expands production to serve up food for Asian company

A London, Ont., plant that processes crickets will soon be shipping them to South Korea for human consumption.

Aspire Food Group to sell the insects to a large food processor in South Korea

The cricket-processing plant is built on about 4.9 hectares of land in Innovation Park in London, Ont., near Veterans Memorial Parkway and Highway 401. (Twitter)

A London, Ont., plant that processes crickets will soon be shipping them to South Korea to be ground into powder and used as an ingredient in human food.

Aspire Food Group has announced a deal with Lotte Confectionary Co., a large Asian international food and beverage processor, to sell its insects as an alternative protein source.

Aspire opened the massive cricket-processing plant in July with the goal of helping to tackle world food insecurity problems by producing an alternative protein. This latest agreement with Lotte marks a departure for the company, which was founded in 2013 by a group of Canadian university students. 

"We first built a relationship with Lotte toward the end of last year when they expressed very strong interest in investing in our business with a view that they wanted to distribute products across Asia and Europe," said Mohammed Ashour, co-founder of Aspire. 

Mohammed Ashour, co-founder and CEO of Aspire Food Group, says the bulk of sales of the cricket-processing plant's products are in the pet food market, but there are companies buying them for human consumption. (Submitted by Aspire Food Group)

He's not certain yet how the cricket powder will be used but said the company's cooks have many options. 

"[Lotte] has a confectionery division so they might make baked goods that incorporate cricket powder. They would use them in protein bars or chocolates," said Ashour.

He said this is not the first company to buy Aspire crickets for human consumption, however, people food only represents 10 per cent of the business. The bulk of sales are in the pet food market. 

Ashour said tastebuds are different around the world, with Asian and African countries using insects as a source of protein far more frequently than in North America. 

But Ashour said there's interest on this continent by some companies to incorporate the powder as an ingredient.

Crickets can be used in a number of ways, whether they are roasted whole or put into protein bars. (Fred Thornhill/Canadian Press)

"We used to have a facility in Austin, Texas, and we sold product to consumer brands in the United States like Hoppy Planet or Chirps that used powder for tortilla chips or protein bars. There really is an exciting growing trend for alternative proteins," Ashour said. 

Crickets provide humans will all nine essential amino acids needed in a complete diet.

Aspire's London facility currently employs approximately 100 people and it is hiring as many as 50 more employees.

At full capacity, the plant is expected to house four billion crickets and produce 13 million kilograms of the insect each year at what's believed to be the biggest cricket-specific processing facility in the world. It's currently running at 30 per cent capacity, with plans to be fully functional in the new year. 

The federal government has said it will invest $8.5 million into Aspire's London facility.