An Austin native just launched the first crickets-for-canines food business in the city.
In July, Wesley Cooper launched Neo Bites, a sustainable dog food and treat brand that relies on crickets for protein. As more people adopt crickets as a source of sustainable protein in their own diets, Cooper said he expects the trend to touch dog food too.
“Eighty percent of countries in the world eat insects,” Cooper told Built In. “In some cultures, they’re delicacies. So I would say that the Western world is really missing out on a unique culinary experience.”
Cooper came up with the idea for Neo Bites after working in the consumer product good industry in New York City. He was always fascinated by environmental causes, he said, and was astounded by the amount of waste associated with the industry — from single-use plastics to the amount of methane contributed by factory farming. He wanted to start a company that would create a better future.
After learning that crickets were one of the most sustainable sources of animal protein, using far less land, water and feed than traditional proteins like cattle, “it was basically an itch I couldn’t not scratch,” Cooper said.
He bought a few packages of cricket powder online, started experimenting with recipes and, in February, launched a Kickstarter campaign to try and make his homemade cricket cookies available to the public. Five days after launching the Kickstarter, however, he was riding the New York subway, saw an ad for fresh dog food and had an epiphany — crickets were already available for consumer consumption. Why not bring the protein to dogs?
“If all the dogs in the U.S. formed their own nation they would be fifth in the world in meat consumption,” Cooper said, adding that crickets are a superfood that contain more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk and as many omega-3 proteins as salmon.
He decided to pivot his business. Cooper moved home to Austin, and worked with a vet nutritionist to create a fresh dog food comprised of crickets, pumpkin, egg and more. When he first started experimenting with the recipe, Cooper didn’t have a dog.
“So that was really interesting to sample,” Cooper said, describing crickets as having a nutty, umami flavor, and adding that, although Neo Bites is safe for people to eat, the food is not seasoned “for human taste buds.”
Now, his family’s terrier mix samples Neo Bites products. The pet tech startup is not the first dog food company to focus on creating kibble from crickets — Chippin in Maryland, Jiminy’s in Oakland and Wilder Harrier in Montreal all incorporate crickets into their products. But Cooper believes Neo Bites’ promise of a hypoallergenic fresh food that is homemade in small batches and delivered sustainably will differentiate his business.
By November, Cooper aims to introduce a dried version of the food, in a move to scale nationally and provide more sustainable packaging. By early next year, he aims to have raised his first seed round, investing up to $1 million on hiring and growing the startup’s online food subscription service.
“Down the line, I would say that we’re going to be a large player in the tech industry,” Cooper said. “We have a strong community built up that is conscious of their impact, and their ability to create change.”