Specialty Food Magazine


Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Page 36 of 139

34 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE specialtyfood.com PHOTO: ASPIRE FOOD GROUP specialtyfood.com ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE 34 T he first insect Mohammed Ashour ate knowingly was on live television in Canada. He was a guest on a breakfast show and the time came to taste a cricket. "I had to act super-normal about it, as if it were the millionth cricket I'd had," he says. In 2013, he and four fellow McGill University graduate stu- dents (Shobhita Soor, Gabriel Mott, Jesse Pearlstein, and Zev Thompson) had won the prestigious, $1 million Hult Prize. The business model they'd devised to tackle ending world hunger was farming edible bugs. "We hadn't built the business yet, it was just an idea," he says, but the grand prize was the reason he had been invited on the talk show. "Five minutes into the conversation, the host asked if I'd like to have a cricket with her. I had to say, 'Yeah, of course.' It turned out to taste really good." That was a pleasant discovery for Ashour, 30, who grew up out- side of Toronto and thought eating insects was "gross." When casting around for ideas to compete for the Hult Prize, a physician friend told him about a patient who regularly ate chocolate-covered ants. "I looked into it, and it was mind-blowing how nutritional and sustainable they are," he says, "and there wasn't a formal supply chain in the world." Now there is, with Ashour as CEO of Aspire Food Group, the company his McGill team launched in 2014, becoming a global industry leader of the movement. In Ghana, they commercially farm palm weevil larvae to address food shortages there, and also operate out of a 25,000-square-foot, temperature-controlled cricket farm and processing facility in Austin, Texas. Aspire has 65 full-time employees, mostly scientists and engineers, who have developed a strong understanding of cricket biology, Ashour says. "We collect one billion data points on many aspects of the life of the cricket, second-by-second, on temperature, humidity, water distribution, their happiest, stress-free growing conditions." The company's focus is on markets where insects are already consumed, like Mexico, Brazil, and Thailand. Research shows that one billion people worldwide have a protein deficit, and as the population grows, there will be an increasing need for ecologically responsible sources. Ashour himself has been converted, saying that when he trav- els he packs snack bags of Aketta, the company's brand of whole- roasted crickets. VISION Mohammed Ashour Aspire Food Group highlights 2012 Mohammed Ashour learns about the Hult Prize, a global start-up accelerator for solving pressing social challenges; recruits four MBA classmates at McGill University in Montreal, to compete. 2013 McGill team decides to build their business plan around insect consumption; wins the $1 million Hult Prize at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. 2014 Starts palm weevil larvae farming pilot program with the University of Ghana; incorporates Aspire USA; launches pilot cricket farm in Austin, Texas. 2015 More than 400 farmers in Ghana produce palm weevil larvae for family sustenance. 2016 Ashour and Shobhita Soor, Aspire's chief impact officer, selected for Forbes 30 Under 30 in 'social entrepreneurs' category; launch Aketta.com, retailing cricket protein products. 2017 Grows to 65 full-time employees and raises $14 million to date.

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