Sirius VC hops on grasshopper food trend

Fancy snacking on some grasshoppers - a high-protein taste sensation some say is a bit like ikan bilis?

It may not be everyone's superfood of choice yet but home-grown entrepreneurial finance firm Sirius Venture Capital is hopping on this emerging food trend.

Together with Dutch-based SLJ Investment Partners, it has led a US$600,000 (S$821,000) seed funding round in Hargol FoodTech, an Israeli start-up that has developed new methods to sustainably farm grasshoppers for protein.

Sirius is betting insect protein will one day become a mainstream alternative to animal protein.

Mr Eugene Wong, Sirius' managing director, told The Straits Times yesterday: "Foodtech to me is not just about farming more efficiently. It is about finding alternative ways of living well without depleting the world's resources.

"Over the years, the mass production of processed foods and the mass farming of cows and chickens have brought the cost of food down. But cows require a lot of water, land and release a lot of carbon dioxide."

That spells opportunity for Hargol to provide a low-cost protein alternative. The swarming nature of grasshoppers also makes them most suited for intensive farming. They are nutrient-rich, with a 72 per cent protein content - the highest among edible insects - and have zero saturated fat and cholesterol.

"It was a challenge growing grasshoppers in a scalable fashion, until Hargol found a way to reduce incubation period of eggs from 40 weeks to two (weeks)," said Mr Wong. Hargol's grasshoppers can be harvested in 14 days after growing from egg to adult. They feed on wheat and do not consume water.

And how do they taste fried?

"It's a bit like eating fried ikan bilis," said Mr Wong.

Hargol's production is still in the sample stage, with plans to start selling grasshoppers whole or in powder form to consumers within the next year.

Mr Wong is also joining Hargol's board as a non-executive director.

He said: "Once they can manage production for a humid country like Singapore, I'm encouraging them to do joint research here, maybe in the next one to two years.

"Whereas South-east Asia is already quite into agritech, I think Singapore can play an important role in foodtech."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2017, with the headline 'Sirius VC hops on grasshopper food trend'. Print Edition | Subscribe