The Rise of Food Renegades David Despain | February 2016, Volume 70, No.2

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BaoBites Superfruit Snacks“We’ve pioneered best-practice forestry techniques with our partners, including techniques like hand-harvesting from wild trees,” Broburg explains. “In addition, our commitment to working with local harvesters creates sustainable incomes for women in southern Africa, providing opportunities to help uplift themselves from poverty with fair living wages to, in turn, feed their families and gain access to medical care and education for their children.” Now Baobab Foods is finding that other food companies increasingly want to integrate their baobab powder into new food and beverage formulations.

Taking ethics to a new level of disruption is Entomo Farms, Norwood, Ontario. Their sustainability-focused protein product may be hard for some consumers to swallow—considering that it’s from insects. Founder Jarrod Goldin said he got started making insect protein after reading a white paper (2013) from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations titled “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security.” Goldin had already been a supplier of insects like crickets and mealworms for the reptile industry, but never did it occur to him to produce a human-grade product. In February 2014, with about a million dollars contributed by angel investors, family, and friends, Goldin invested in large-scale dehydration and grinding technology to turn wet crickets and mealworms into either a coarse or dry powder.

Goldin began with about 5,000 square feet in what are essentially refitted chicken barns to produce a human-grade product. The company became the first human-grade insect farm in North America. It’s not the only one now, but it’s by far the largest one, according to Goldin, and the only one that produces products that are certified organic by the USDA. In two years the company has expanded the facility to 60,000 square feet and is looking to add another 40,000 square feet to meet demands internationally.

“Like Uber has disrupted the taxi business and Airbnb has disrupted travel, insects are disrupting the food industry, specifically the protein industry,” Goldin declares. “If you’re interested in a healthier, sustainable lifestyle, this protein is the solution for you. There’s no protein more sustainable for the planet.”

A quarter of consumers in the U.S. say that they are “frequently influenced by a company’s ethics,” according to a Mintel report (2015b) The Ethical Consumer - US - July 2015. However, ethics don’t necessarily translate to greater sales unless there’s enough availability and the price is right. In addition, there is a lot of confusion surrounding what ethical claims actually mean (e.g., Fair Trade) and how much value there is in seeking them out. Consumers also might have conflicting ideas about what is ethical, such as whether or not a company supports gay marriage or is dedicated to traditional Christian values.

A company’s size alone might also hurt the ethical image of a company, as well as make it a target. Big companies might have to make the extra effort to convince their consumers that they are ethical, Mintel reports. Consumers often find that it’s easier to punish a big “bad” company versus rewarding a “good” company. So it’s imperative for companies—both big and small—to stay in tune with what their own customers find is ethical and have a clear marketing message that can boost its image. The Internet age can make it “extremely difficult” to cover up any missteps or ethical blunders, Mintel reports. Repairing the relationship with consumers in this modern age of food-engaged consumers might mean owning up to any mistakes and describing in detail what the company will do to change for the better in the future.