“I’m sure you’ve seen Avengers: Endgame,” conjectures Wu at our first meeting. But instead of launching into a fan-boy spiel, Wu commends Hollywood’s minor pitch for entomophagy (the consumption of insects) in the blockbuster. “Few remember the scene because it’s such a long movie. I took note, of course," he says.
Tony Stark asked his daughter very casually over lunch, ‘Would you like some crickets?’
Decades ago, the question would have been met with derision. Today, however, a more informed audience is seeking — or at least considering — sustainable protein sources. Cue Ento, Malaysia's first company to provide roasted crickets for human consumption.
Targeting Generation T
"Our target market ranges from 35- to 40-year-olds; namely millennials who are more concerned about the environment," explains Wu. "Today’s consumers seek sustainable solutions and are moving towards accountability, which is what Ento is trying to achieve."
What we’re trying to do is to provide the food of the future.
Less a harbinger of doom and more a man of common sense, 26-year-old Wu, who spends his leisure time studying food supply chains, says, “Climate change is such a big issue that it is almost impossible to wrap our heads around it. Nevertheless, it has affected global weather patterns, causing unexpected droughts or the polar opposite by way of flooding."
While most food supply chains depend on fair weather for plentiful harvests, insect farming can happen anywhere and at any time. "Indoor insect farming produces a more stable supply chain. It also requires less feed, water and land while emitting far fewer greenhouse gasses compared to traditional livestock methods. Not to mention that our products contains neither antibiotics nor steroids."
What Ento's Consumers Say
Zooming in allows us to see how entomophagy also benefits the individual.
"I like to touch base with my customers, especially those who do repeat orders," smiles Wu. "One of our top customers left us an amazing testimony along the lines of, 'Hey, Kevin! I repeated my order because I love the nutrient profile. As a person who enjoys snacking, I appreciate that crickets are low in calories but high in protein."
Our product line caters towards health nuts.
Besides 3 varieties of whole roasted crickets, Ento's offerings have expanded to include health supplements. "You can now have our crickets in powder form or inside capsules," enthuses Wu. "Top your smoothies with it, bake with it, or incorporate it in pasta or sausages.
Most have their first taste of arachnidss or antannaed creepy crawlies as street food in Southeast Asia; Wu was no exception.
"It was on the streets of Cambodia during a trip with friends. Since then, I've been to quite a few insect restaurants. But my most memorable experience was at Insects in the Backyard in Chanchui Art Hub, Bangkok, which is about half an hour from the main city centre. That was amazing as Chef Mai Thitiwat, a renowned chef in Thailand, manages to make insects very palatable. They even have a cocktail with ants, which was really delicious. It should be receiving more recognition than it is."
The fine dining restaurant opened my mind and my tastebuds, and made me rethink how we see food.
Those who would prefer to sample insects in hot dishes need not wait long, as Wu is currently in cahoots with several chefs. "We cannot disclose who they are yet, save for the fact that they are a couple of big F&B players," he says coyly. "Just wait 3 to 6 months."
A Call To Arms
Go ahead and place your online orders at www.ento.my, but be patient, as Ento's entire product line is presently on a pre-order basis.
"Our business model is a biological process so we can’t get the crickets to grow any faster than they already do," apologises Wu while trying to paint a picture of the 2000 square feet farm in Ara Damansara. "As our whole process is in pilot phase, we are still unable to meet commercial and industrial demands.
We spent about a year to get to the point where we are. Now that we’ve proven that we can sell more than one packet of crickets, our next step is to expand our production capacity. I want everyone to know that we are currently looking for investors who want to be part of the sustainable movement in Malaysia. Get in contact with me."
Wu, an avid fan of the Beyond Meat movement, is hoping to mimic the American company's success by offering alternative protein. "I’m not saying that crickets or insects are the only solution, but we’re offering part of the solution. By having crickets on supermarket shelves and widening consumers’ choices, I'd say we're on the right path."