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Insectpreneurs Series: Anne & Damien Huysmans of Green Kow

Insectpreneurs Series: Anne & Damien Huysmans of Green Kow

 

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Note: This post was translated from French, so please forgive any inconsistencies.

This month we have another exciting interview with a successful insectpreneurs: Damien & Anne Huysmans of Green Kow in Belgium.

Not only is it great to hear the details of how these entrepreneurs get started in the industry, their struggles, first wins and advice.

But it is also great to see a company that has managed to enter the mainstream with their edible insect products – Green Kow have their products on the shelves at a major Belgian supermarket chain.

So jump right in and see how it was achieved…

What sparked your interest in Edible Insects? Why Mealworms specifically?

When we started in 2011, with some scientists in academic research laboratories, everyone said:

“Insects are fantastic not only on a nutritional level,  but farming them has a very low impact on the environment. This will certainly be the food of the future “.

We heard this for thirty or forty years! And the future never arrived …

Anne and I have said “The future is now! Edible insects, it’s good to talk about them, but above all to act upon them and eat them.

” So we created The Green Kow Company in 2012.

Quickly, we chose to work with mealworms. Easier to raise and to find on the market, palatable and not too expensive.

The perfect insect to start our mission: to (re)introduce insects on Western tables (Europe and North America).

What prompted you to look into further Top product development? Why in the form of a spread?

It is well known; we also eat with our eyes. It’s undoubtedly the first sense that works in choosing a novelty food.

For us Westerners, it is not easy to eat whole insects because we have lost the habit. Furthermore, when you eat a steak, no one shows you the dead cow full of blood… We chose to develop products (specialty foods) containing insects mixed in herbal preparations. Starting with our spreads: Carrot-Mealworm and Tomato-Mealworm. Easy-to-use products and easy to share with relatives, friends, colleagues … Simple, “friendly” flavors that suggest tastes of childhood. But also extremely well “built” because we have the chance to work with the Belgian double star Michelin Chef: Sang Hoon Degeimbre (l’Air du Temps in Liernu – Belgium). And other products which have been developed based on the same philosophy will follow soon. We are eager to help you discover.

But please note, we do not intend to be starter than other producers. We just simply apply our way of integrating insects in our food. And there is certainly room for other views and therefore, other producers and other products … After all, it is neither the farmers nor the producers or distributors who create the market but the consumers. It is for them to choose products that attract them, which they will buy, that will please them (or not) and, hopefully, adopt.

What Were the First Steps You Took To Start The Business?

From the beginning, it was both an adventure “business”, and also an opportunity to have wonderful human encounters. We wish also to publicly congratulate and thank Ana (4Ento) who gives us the opportunity to express ourselves through this interview, and is also accompanying and assisting researchers, entrepreneurs, farmers, developers, and even … students in our little universe of edible insect (note: I sincerely hope that her modesty does not make her remove this small passage).

Now, returning to the beginnings of The Green Kow Company, the first meetings were highly targeted to get straight into concrete action.

It was first conceived (Anne, my wife- associate and myself) as reciprocal employees. Anne with her philosophy very centered on the impact of human activities on the environment, and me with my vision in Marketing and Communications. Briefly, complementing each other, each within their role, which is very important between partners, even and especially if we are also (moreover) husband and wife. We have both designed the outline of the Green Kow project: values, missions, goals, dedicated resources, priorities, action plan timetable, etc.

On this basis, we were able to take the following steps:

  • Create and launch of our company via funding from a business angel visionary (Pierre Lhoest – The Faktory)
  • Development of our products: homemade recipes design created by Sang Hoon Degeimbre (2 star Michelin Chef)
  • Research of farmers who were geographically close, and were working under rules of good practice (sorry, but our contacts at this level remain secret).
  • Search for partners for production. People close to us who would facilitate both contacts and also share our vision on food. People whose expertise and contacts could easily be put to the service of our products.
  • And finally … meeting with our first client(s)

Furthermore, there were also many other beautiful encounters, not always directly related to the business, but have brought us a lot: Paul Vantomme (FAO), Blaise Hommelen (Certisys), Gil Houins (AFSCA), Filip Fraeye (Biofresh), Eric Domb (Pairi Daiza), Leona Van Gansberghe (Ujamaa), Gregory Cornwell (UN – Brussels), Eric Haubruge and Rudy Caparros (Agro-Bio Tech – Ulg), Isabelle Radoux and Philippe Créteur (Innovatech), Anne Gillet (magazine Bio Info), … among many others…

What Early Lessons Did You Learn?

The three lessons that have appeared as the most important and that have guided us towards reaching our goals:

You have to work only (!) with people who are passionate about their own activity and directly interested in what you are doing. In all other cases, you’ll be wasting your time trying to convince or encourage them to do what they promised.

Do not wait for things to happen, create them. This is particularly true with regards to habits and regulations. Rather than waiting for something to change before acting, take action to change it.

There is a time for reflection, analysis and discussion. And there is a time for action. A project is never perfect. You have carefully made all the analyzes, studies and calculations of the world, with the best specialists and consultants, never the less, if you do not move to action, this would have been for nothing! So, jump & do it!!

But we have also learned many other interesting things over time with our farmers, our producers and traders.

Finally, I can not resist the temptation to deliver the two pieces of advice (linked) that were given to me by Eric Domb (President of Garden Park Pairi Daiza):

  • “First, when you talk about your project, listen carefully to what you are told.”
  • “Moreover, when you talk about your project, do not listen too much to what you are told.”

It’s all there … in a clever mix of tradition and revolution.

Tell Us About Finding Your First Customer

Even before officially receiving the approval of the l’AFSCA (Agence Fédérale pour la Sécurité de la Chaîne Alimentaire – Belgium) “Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain – Belgium” to place a single product on the Belgian market, we had already foreseen to do a launch into the circuit of independent bio stores. But we really could not see the way to sell our small pots directly to the owners and managers, store by store. We therefore sought a wholesaler-distributor.

And in the end, it was Biofresh, the largest Belgian bio distributor who said OK, and qualified our product as “a very beautiful surprise!”

Returning from this visit, we no longer touched the ground … we were overjoyed to have achieved this incredible gateway in to the market.

delhaizeThen we also had the honor of being the first European company to offer edible insects on the shelves of a large retail chain nationwide. This was in Belgium, at Delhaize, September 19, 2014. This was obviously an amazing event!!

What Are Your Current Aims for Green Kow and the Industry?

For Green Kow, the game will now be played on 3 different levels:

  • New products
  • New customers
  • New countries

The 3 levels are linked. And we are actively working with some success. For any developing company must reach, with good state of freshness, a reasonable critical size. And it is only then that some form of inertia can play in its favor if we continue to inject doses of energy …

For the insect industry in general, everyone knows that the regulatory aspect will play a crucial and decisive role. This is also there a critical sized problem. At this level, I hope that all the players in the insect sector in each country (starting with the EU and North America) will feel responsible to convince each of their own national authorities to allow the trade of edible insects. Not all insects and not anyhow, but it seems that Belgium, the Netherlands and soon Switzerland could serve as very valuable examples at this point.

No need to wait, it will not help !! The only possible solution is the coordinated action, reasoned and open. Meetings with officials of health authorities are a very useful subject. One will see where it gets stuck, arguing accordingly … to get a deal. For objectively, there is no reason to prohibit insects as human food. Not even the regulation “Novel Food” which can not rely on any avowable scientific reasoning in this case when we know that 2.5 billion human beings in the world are regularly eating insects!! And if, wherever you are, you feel too lonely, and lack information in order to act in your country, we are at your disposal to help you! (damien.huysmans@greenkow.be)

Then we address the problem of the price, as it is essential to arrive quickly to offer cheaper products to potential consumers. Certainly not by strangling farmers or producers, but by organizing the work differently and by returning to basics in the development of prices. Otherwise, edible insects shall remain just a small fad for privileged in need of strong sensations, who afterwards will switch on to something else!

What do you see as the main challenges for mainstream adaptation of insect-based foods?

At the risk of repeating myself perhaps on some points:

  • An adequate regulation in as many countries as possible (or even coordinated internationally: EU, …)
  • Self-regulation and quality-control
  • A wide variety of offers: visible insects or not, fresh, freeze dried, frozen, dried, incorporated into nutritional products and gourmet, … in brief, the widest possible integration of the insects in the diet in all its forms
  • Affordable prices for a maximum of consumers

Under these four conditions, the market quickly will have a chance to grow. Otherwise, it may take a lot more time and greatly discredit the royal road which edible insects lead to.

What is your advice for entrepreneurs considering entering the industry?

  1. If your country does not yet allow insects in food, first convince your national authorities. This can of course also serve your future competitors, but if you do not move on this point, you will not be able to do anything further.
  2. Respect all the involved actors. Because without them you will not get anywhere!
  3. Develop an honest business. Because if you cheat all other players in the insect sector all your colleagues pay the bill as much as you! There has never been a “Crazy Cricket Affair” or Mealworm Hormone Traffic”. Avoid being the man or woman through whom the scandal could arrive!
  4. Forget everything I just said. Do what you want and it will surely be fine. For there is room for many well intentioned people in the edible insect sector.

Share A Few recommendations for readers interested in exploring edible insects. Which products Containing mealworms?

Especially, do not say “I have tasted, otherwise I will look stupid”. Insects are like all foods, to eat, we must first really want to try them. And if not, wait a little bit.

Just try all kinds of products. Even with other insects. And choose those that are best for you.

Go to the idea of ​​integrating at least one insect product (mealworm or other) into your diet on a regular basis (for example, once a week). It is not so much about making a lifetime experience, but rather to discover a new way, a new habit to incorporate into our diet.

And do not forget that in addition to being delicious, insects have exceptional nutritional qualities and their livestock has a very limited impact on our environment. A few weeks before the Climate Conference (COP 21 – Paris, December 2015), it is always helpful to begin to act rather than to prepare to talk about it!

Finally, be assured there are 2.500.000.000 people (yes, 2.5 Billion!) in the world who regularly eat insects for pleasure and are certainly not any more stupid than you!

Your Thoughts?

I hope you enjoyed reading another amazing Insectpreneur story, and found some motivation.

You can find even more inspiring Insectpreneurs here.

Any questions or comment you want to add, please feel free to get in touch.

Last but not least, if you want to support us here at 4Ento and keep this series going, you can donate via the PayPal button below.

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