While travelling in Cambodia, Christine Spliid was overwhelmed with how many people seemed to be eating insects and insect-based food.
‘I didn’t immediately connect the dots, but I follow food trends closely and noticed how Dutch and American companies were slowly starting to incorporate insects in food in different ways, and when I started researching the environmental benefits, I was sold,’ she says.
Spliid was running her own homeware business before, but was looking for something more meaningful that incorporated her interest in healthy, nutritious food, and which also has a positive impact on the world.
She made up her mind to pursue the idea of being the first to launch an insect-based food product in the UK. First, she had to find out whether it was legal to sell products containing insects here, and also find a manufacturer who was willing to work with such an unusual ingredient.
‘It took me 2-3 months to get the go-ahead on both,’ Spliid says. ‘In terms of checking legalities, it was lots of emails exchanged between me and the Food Standard Agency. Because insects have not been eaten in Western diets before, there was no law that really talked about them, so it is kind of a grey area. It isn’t illegal however, and I decided to go ahead.’ Gathr was born.
The manufacturer was found through lots of internet research and friendly people pointing her in the right direction. Spliid also found an accountant to help her set up the business and register with Companies House, and lastly, she set up a business bank account.
A Kickstarter campaign
Raising funds was achieved through a Kickstarter campaign, an initial £10,000, which was just enough to make a small production batch, get a website up and running, and test the market.
‘I told friends and family a week before I was about to launch the campaign, only to realise that you’re actually supposed to prepare for it 2-3 months before the campaign start. It just meant I had to work extra hard on spreading the word.’
After reading lots of material on the internet about how to spread the word, Spliid was featured in some major news outlets, like the two biggest papers in her native country Denmark, as well as American news site Mashable. But the initial funds didn’t last long. ‘After the campaign and making the first batch of products, you realise how quickly £10,000 disappears, so I was fortunate to raise another £150,000 from private investors three months later. This has brought us to the stage where we’re at now.’
The company invested a lot of time in social media, and tried and keep it informative yet also fun and entertaining. Writing engaging newsletters was also important, as was participating at trade and consumer shows.
‘At each show you might not get out of it what you had thought on the outset, but something good usually comes from attending these shows; you really make a lot of contacts in the industry. We also hired a PR company, to help with our new product launches. They got us some great coverage, the best one being Crobar featuring on Sunday Brunch, as one of the top protein trends of 2016.’
Targeting shops with a taste for insect-based food
Spliid says she made an educated guess as to who her customers would be, and then approached the shops that they would buy products from. ‘So in our case, health shops, delis, cafes. There are so many shops especially in London that are looking for quirky, new products.
‘But it is difficult, given you’re literally trying to introduce a completely new kind of food, which many people have never tried before. So persuasion, charm and persistence, emailing, calling, there is no magic formula, just hard work.’
For anyone else looking to go into insect-based food or any unusual food product, Spliid has some words of warning: ‘This is certainly not a sector you enter if you want quick, easy money. You have to take a long-term approach and expect a lot of resistance.’
She likes reading biographies of successful entrepreneurs, ‘especially when you feel a bit defeated and need some inspiration’. Spliid has just finished reading the story of Elon Musk, founder of Paypal, Space X and Tesla cars.
‘That makes you realise what true stress and pressure must feel like, and suddenly you don’t feel so bad. Also, I like to exercise a lot, which always helps me focus.
‘Remember to look at the big picture, if something isn’t working, change your approach. I also make sure I work super hard throughout the week, and I might do work on weekends, but only if it is either urgent or interesting. It important to keep some kind of work like balance, even if you love your work.’