Aspire Food Group’s beginnings are as original as its product. A social enterprise that raises insects for human consumption began as an entry in the Hult prize competition, which challenges college students to solve some of the world’s greatest problems.
Five students from McGill University bested 10,000 other entries in the 2013 contest seeking to solve the global hunger problem. The goal: commercializing the tradition of eating protein-rich insects, which require far less resources than protein sources like beef or chicken. The practice has its roots in cultures around the world. With seed money from the prize, the students formed Aspire Food Group and quickly set up operations in the US and Ghana.
Of course, scaling the process of raising insects for mass consumption faced a number of significant hurdles, not the least of which was convincing cultures unfamiliar with the tradition to eat small bugs. Yet, Aspire has already seen some success, with Atlanta’s Phillips Arena (home to the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks) and Safeco Field (home to MLB’s Seattle Mariners) serving up Aspire’s roasted crickets. Aspire has also taken smaller steps, offering cricket powder for use in protein supplements and bars, as well as a “paleo protein granola,” which includes the cricket powder and select restaurants and food services businesses have come to the company looking for product.
There is also the problem of production. Raising insects is a seasonal business and harvesting the insects by hand is incredibly inefficient. That’s why Aspire has opened up a new R&D facility at its Austin operation to develop technology to automate cricket harvesting as well as biological research to optimize the insects’ conditions to maximize output and minimize resources.
“Our goal is a full-scale commercial facility that is entirely automated,” said Abir Syed, Director of Finance of Aspire Food Group.
Aspire has taken a strategic approach to introducing crickets to the market, as well. For example, it located its Austin facility near Mexico where there is a tradition of eating grasshoppers, which are similar to crickets but more difficult to harvest at scale. Similarly, Aspire’s facility in Ghana is researching and developing palm weevils where they have been consumed traditionally.
There are also opportunities to use the cricket waste as a soil additive and the exoskeleton, which crickets shed six or seven times in their lifetime. Those exoskeletons contain chitin, used in the production of chitosan (commonly derived from shellfish), which is then used in products ranging from medical sutures to the wax on fruit.
However, the appetite for crickets and cricket additives in the US grew far faster than Aspire anticipated and as it began to plan for its new facility, management realized they would need a new system to manage the back-end financials and inventory. It was just two months into the job before Syed realized that running financials on QuickBooks and Excel wasn’t going to cut it and pitched a new ERP system to the board.
“A year from now, I know the volume is going to increase,” Syed said. “Our capacity to track the business is going to be critical. I wanted to get ahead of it.”
After a comprehensive evaluation Aspire selected NetSuite to manage its financials, CRM, works in process (WIP) and routing. Using NetSuite’s SuiteSuccess, Aspire was able to go live on the system in just four months and, because it is a young company without rigid, long-held processes it was easy to take advantage of leading practices in manufacturing that NetSuite had built in based on its decades of experience in the sector. Aspire was also able to take advantage of NetSuite’s experience in the food and beverage sector specifically.
“We’re nimble and small enough we can adjust our ways,” Syed said.
In the next phase of the implementation, Aspire plans to add manufacturing modules to track the costs associated with manufacturing and livestock. Then it hopes to help solve world hunger.
Learn more about NetSuite for food and beverage manufacturers.