Would you eat a cricket? What if it was dipped in chocolate, spiced with lime and chili powder, or roasted with a pinch of salt? The idea might not even register to you as odd; you may already be one of many who recognize crickets as a sustainable source of protein. That, or you might be cringing at the thought of consuming an insect. But what if crickets became a key ingredient in something you see every day — like a protein bar? Perhaps then this incredible source of protein would have a chance with the masses and the world would be a little bit better for it.
The team behind Coast Protein in Canada wants to incorporate cricket protein into mainstream food systems through just that: an adorably packaged and mightily tasty protein bar. Since launching last year, the Coast team have been developing new flavors, products, and spreading the good news of cricket protein! And it is good news; not only are crickets a complete protein in and of themselves, they also contain a lot of essential vitamins and minerals! When compared to meat, crickets also have a much lower impact on the earth; they produce less greenhouse gases and require far less water land for the same pound of protein. We had the chance to talk with Coast Partner and Head of Research and Development, Stefanie Di Giovanni, about her day-to-day and dreams for the future of cricket protein!
How and why did you get involved with Coast Protein? What was the moment you knew you needed to jump on board with the vision?
One day, our founder Dylan asked me what I thought about edible insects as he was re-telling me his experiences in Asia and how he noticed edible insects all over the local markets and menus. After some digging, he came across a report issued by the UN on edible insects, and soon after, Coast was born. After learning that crickets are hyper-sustainable with an impressive nutritional panel, I eagerly jumped on board. Since competing in a fitness show myself and having to eat a high protein diet, I struggled finding protein bars that aligned with my dietary preferences.
Tell us about the day-to-day! What does the average 24 hours as Partner and Head of Research and Development look like?
I do a little bit of everything on a day to day basis it just depends on what is happening! A few months ago I was focusing most of my time making a new cranberry bar, so that involved looking for local suppliers, costing out ingredients, and tasting lots and lots of samples. Whereas, these days I spend most of my time trying to manage inventory, demo-ing our products at our retailers and then leading production runs of protein powders and bars a few times a week.
What’s been your most rewarding and most difficult moment with Coast Protein?
The most rewarding moment so far was when our Peanut Butter Bar was nominated for best new product in British Columbia and I had to pitch in front of a panel of experienced and esteemed local chefs, foodies, and buyers such as Vikram Vij and Mijune Pak! It was only a 90-second pitch but I felt on top of the world, as I couldn’t believe I was talking about cricket bars that I made. Plus, the panel all seemed genuinely impressed by our peanut butter bar so that gave me an extra boost of confidence! The most difficult moments have been during research and development. I have no professional training in the kitchen nor do I have a food science background so I have made hundreds of bar samples (and in turn hundreds of mistakes) without really knowing what the end product should look, feel, or taste like. Many bars seemed perfect sitting in my fridge but they didn’t translate into retail-ready products and it was incredibly frustrating at times as I didn’t know WHAT I was looking for. Thankfully I worked with an amazing food scientist who directed me in a way where I could follow all the food safety protocols while still being creative.
How have you seen Coast affect the community outlook on crickets as a source of protein?
The response we have been getting has been overwhelmingly positive. Many people we interact with are eating insects for their first time; it has been really fascinating to watch people go through the motions — from complete shock to complete surprise when they realize they like the bars!
I really think we are just the tip of disrupting normal food choices by offering edible insects in a familiar way.
It has been especially cool to see kids dive right in, because at the end of the day we want to normalize the idea of edible insects and the best way to bring change is to bring it at a generational level.
Tell us a little about your own journey with holistic wellness and nutrition!
Being Italian, and having a typical Italian family, I’ve always been surrounded by and often driven by food.
Food for me is as much about nutrition as it is about family, culture, and positive wellness.
I’ve always worked in the service industry and being very customer-oriented, I guess you could say I enjoy watching people eat! After university, I decided to become a holistic nutritionist because of how deeply I feel about the importance of good nutrition [in] people’s overall wellness. Not enough people understand the effects of what they eat on their bodies, and I wanted to be able to share that with my friends, family, and clients.
As I mentioned before, as we developed the values and mission of Coast I quickly realized it was a vehicle for me to pursue my professional goals while making real impact on many people and a business I immediately felt deeply passionate about. I started playing around with recipes before evening shifts and one the weekends; those hours turned into a part-time job, and then in August of last year I quit my role as bar manager to go full-time Coast! Never looked back!
In your wildest dreams, what effect will Coast Protein have on the world? Any future goals you’d like to share?
We started Coast to change the way people think about their daily food, nutrition, and most importantly their food systems. The most common question we get, even before, “Why Crickets?” is, “Where do the crickets come from?”
If more people asked this question about a lot of their food, then we believe, in terms of environmental impact, the entire food system would be in a much better state.
In our wildest dreams, Coast would be on the forefront of changing food systems worldwide and have more products and companies taking ownership of their whole supply chain to ensure even the lowly protein bar has ingredients that are healthy, but also have a positive impact on the people that grow the ingredients and the environment. We’d love to one day have an entirely organic bar, but currently it is way too expensive to even attempt it. As our volumes grow, we slowly incorporate more and more organic ingredients but we’re still only at best 25% organic. Yes, the crickets are organic.
How are you currently experimenting with adventurous foods and flavors at Coast and at home?
I have actually been keeping my home cooking very simple; it might because I spend a lot of time thinking about bars and making samples, so when I cook I like to do flavorful, yet simple and seasonal cooking. Right now Dylan [Coast’s Founder] and I are in love with an adapted recipe of Najib’s Special from Nuba in Vancouver. It’s a Lebanese roasted cauliflower with cumin, paprika, and lemon; it’s delicious.
Photos courtesy of Coast Protein