Interview with Katharina Unger, founder of LivinFarms
The idea of a domestic edible insects breeding object suggests that you have a very clear vision about the future of human entomophagy. Could you share that idea with us?
From the very beginning of this project, my goal was to empower people to grow their own food, their own protein, independently from any larger system. Home-growing of fruit or vegetables is actually becoming more and more popular. Livin Farms Hive™ is the first device of its kind that lets you grow not only fibres and vitamins, but most importantly protein alongside many other rich nutrients from a small space inside your home. This is an absolute novelty and utilizes the brilliant properties of insect to be suited to grow in small spaces with litte energy and feed.
At heart, we are very much a hardware company. And this was not always easy to justify. Some people said it would be easier to start out with a food product. An insect bar or powder to make cookies is maybe an easier sell. My gut feeling though said that we have to walk the hard path first, before diversifying our product range. We are excited that the Hive™ really does make people re-think how and what they eat. It´s a cultural and a paradigm shift that comes with edible insects becoming part of the Western diet. But it´s a healthy and sustainable one. We love to be at the forefront of a movement that really does get people to make a conscious choice.
Foremost, we are very excited to have a direct impact on individual consumers´lives. This is why we started with the Hive™ for home use. We love to see how our customers will shape and direct the edible insect movement. They are all part of a food revolution!
What role the big companies will have in this sector?
The big players will possibly come into the game a little later on, once regulations have totally cleared up and both market and strategy have been proven. A big company has to play things safe, observe, then act. It moves slowly. As a startup, our job and our passion is to take the risk and make our development very fast. This bears a lot of risk but it changes peoples´lives and in the end whole economies and systems. Developing a home-growing device for edible insects right now is something that you can only do if you are willing to walk a difficult path and develop something unique. Our 830 financial supporters (Kickstarter) value this and see this chance! The Hive project is not only about edible insects, it´s also about re-connecting people to the food, to growing it and experiencing eating as a holistic process. It´s this process that we are excited about. Our technology helps us make a difference in the forest of upcoming edible insect startups. Raising insects right now is laborious and cost-intensive. We are exploring the smallest possible footprint on which we can do it, most efficiently and safely. We are convinced it will have a large impact once we and the industry around us scales.
What’s the importance of producing food by ourselves?
It´s a way to lead a healthier and more fulfilled life. Appreciation and the feeling of accomplishment come with growing something, harvesting it, cooking and processing it. It makes a meal whole, not only in its ingredients, but in its authenticity and story. This is healthy superfood.
The edible insect movement is grassroots. It is an exception in the food movement as it is not driven by the industry, but by the people who request it, who funded several crowdfunding campaigns for it. This means a lot. Our own campaign got support by 830 people. They all want to influence this movement, they want to be leaders in this revolution. They want to take their health into their hands and stop to blindly trust the food industry to make good food for them. It´s exciting.
You made a successful communication and found raising campaign. What’s the secret?
We are authentic. As said before, a lot of people said to me that I should consider to make a food product or an ingredient like powder, instead of the home-growing device. But I stuck with it. This is what I believed in, this was the change I wanted to see and so it got other people excited. We´re not in it for the money or prestige, but with our hearts.
Design is also crucial to communicate successfully to people, this starts with our website and social media channels and ends with the packaging of our samples.
Would you reccomand to other young entrepreneurs to invest in the edible insects business?
It´s an exciting time right now and it needs more players to build a market. But it also needs more people as customers. I wish more young chefs would experiment with insects and that more restaurants are supportive of this new idea. This is a great way of building trust in edible insects as a food.
Do you think showing insects “as they are” could be a negative approach to communicate an industry that someone says is in need for normalization?
There is no single approach to normalize edible insects. We showed the Hive at multiple events and even skeptics ate the worms even though they saw it as a whole. It´s a lot about education. Once the mealworms are frozen, they become a food product just like any other meat and then they can be grounded and processed and turn into multiple kinds of foods.
What’s the future of entomophagy in the western world?
It is happening! J In many ways, all around the world. In the last year, 30% of Brits cut their meat consumption. Substituting other meats with insects will provide nutrients with a much smaller footprint. This could help our climate goals massively. And people become more conscious. Climatarian will become a diet alongside vegetarian and vegan.