Canada's largest grocer believes Canadians are ready to cook with crickets and is bringing the alternative protein ingredient to grocery shelves under its President's Choice label.
A number of Canadian companies already sell various insect protein products, like mealworm bolognese sauce and honey-mustard flavoured whole crickets. But Loblaw Companies Ltd.'s announcement signifies more Canadians appear to be willing to munch on insects.
Shoppers can now find bags of President's Choice cricket powder at their local Loblaw stores, the company said this week. It's the first time Loblaw's in-house brand is selling insect protein, though one Toronto Loblaws store sells a small selection of alternative protein products.
President's Choice is always discovering new tastes and flavours, said spokeswoman Catherine Thomas in an email.
"As a leader in the industry, we wanted to be among the first to bring cricket powder to Canadians in an easy and approachable manner."
Entomophagy, a name for the eating of insects, may be relatively new to Canadians. But around the world people consume more than 1,900 different species, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The most frequently consumed are beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps and ants.
In Canada, insects sometimes appeared as ingredients on restaurant menu items. A Vancouver restaurant made headlines when it offered cricket pizza several years ago and the insect was centre stage at the 2017 summer Pacific National Exhibition fair where the ingredient could be found in burgers and fries.
Several entrepreneurs have attempted to capitalize on the food trend, packing insects into both protein powders and bars.
Entomophagy proponents say it has environmental and health benefits. Insect farming tends to produce less greenhouse gases, and requires less feed, water and land than more traditional livestock. Companies selling insect products tout their high-protein content.
The insects used for the President's Choice cricket powder come from Norwood, Ont.-based Entomo Farms.
The farm started in January 2014 and has grown from 464 square metres to 6,100, said co-founder Jarrod Goldin. There's plans for expanding further, with another 3,700 square metres soon to be built out, he said.
For reference, 2,800 square metres house about 100 million crickets, Goldin said.
Entomo sells cricket and mealworm products, like protein powder and whole-roasted mealworms, under its own brand name on its website and at various grocery stores, though no national chains, he said.
Cricket powder is really malleable, he said, and can be added to most anything people already eat.
Goldin sprinkles some on top of plain yogurt and berries for breakfast, for example. It can be baked into pizza crusts, added to pancake mix or put into a chili recipe.
The only limit is imagination, he said.
The President's Choice website features recipes for chana masala, chocolate coconut bars and strawberry-banana smoothies all featuring the new cricket powder product.
The taste varies based on concentration. A small amount won't add any flavour, Goldin said, otherwise "it has a very lovely, earthy, nutty, mushroomy kind of flavour."
The Loblaw deal has been in the works for years, Goldin said, and he's hopeful it's the first of many insect-protein products the national grocer will stock.
"President's Choice is actively working on additional products made with cricket powder," Loblaw's Thomas confirmed, adding an assortment of alternative plant-based protein products will be available in 2019.
It may not be the only large grocery chain to start selling insects.
Metro Inc. doesn't currently carry any such products, said spokeswoman Sadie Weinstein in an email.
"But we're always assessing food trends and might look to carry some of these products in the future."