Aspire Food Group lands $13m to build world’s first automated cricket protein plant
Aspire Food Group, based in Ontario, Canada, has been awarded US$13.3 million by the industry-led, non-profit NGen Canada to construct a cricket protein manufacturing facility – a world first.
Aspire is partnering with Telus Agriculture, DarwinAI, Swift Labs, and A&L Laboratories for the project which will put Canada at the forefront of the emerging insect and sustainable protein market. It will integrate technologies including artificial intelligence and a private industrial internet of things (IoT) for the first time in a manufacturing setting with living organisms.
According to the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization (UN FAO) insects are consumed by over two billion people in over 80% of countries around the globe. The body says that more than 2,000 species are reported to be edible and it is likely that many more will be categorised as edible in the future.
The new plant in London, Ontario is now under construction with operations set to begin in the first quarter of 2022. The eventual aim will be to ratchet production to nearly 20,000 metric tonnes of cricket protein products annually. At full production the facility will employ 60 people.
Aspire makes nutrient-dense protein powder from crickets, along with frass, an organic plant and soil bio-pesticide and bio-stimulant. CEO Mohammed Ashour told SIAL: “Our ingredients are in food products such as Loblaws’ President’s Choice protein bars as well as pet food and treat products.”
The growth-stage tech start-up says that 100g of powdered crickets contains almost the same amount of protein as an equivalent amount of meat, but with less fat and fewer calories. This makes cricket powder an excellent source of protein as well as minerals such as iron, zinc and magnesium. The company adds: “Studies have shown that a diet rich in cricket protein can improve gut health and potentially reduce systemic inflammation.”
The protein plant project is the largest funded by NGen under the Canadian government’s Innovation Supercluster Initiative which supports the acceleration of commercialization of advanced technologies.