Dave Baugh first ate bugs while serving in Southeast Asia in the Marine Corps.
“The first time, it was kind of weird,” he admits. “And then, the more places we went to, we ate different kinds of bugs.”
For many people, that experience may just become a story to tell their kids. For Dave and his twin brother, Lars, it was an idea for a business.
“It kind of started the conversation, the gears turning, with Lars and I,” Dave said.
“Why don't people in America do this?” the 2006 Arapahoe High School graduates wondered.
Lars, who had embarked on a corporate sales career after graduating from the University of Arizona, told Dave — who had commissioned as a public affairs officer in the Marines after graduating from the University of Colorado — that he had heard of an American startup creating protein bars from crickets.
Last fall, after Dave left the Marines and Lars left his career, they started their own company, Lithic Nutrition, with hopes that cricket-based bars and powders will soon be seen as a direct replacement for whey and soy products.
They developed recipes with the help of a local food science consultant, Erin Price, and settled on three flavors of cricket-based protein bars: banana bread, blueberry vanilla and dark chocolate brownie.
They soft-launched in July and then started a crowd-funding campaign, raising more than $12,000 on Kickstarter to bring the bars and a protein powder to market. For now, the brothers make the bars themselves in a 120-square-foot “clean room” in a small commercial space in Aurora, but they hope to contract out the process as the business scales up.
In order to do that, the Centennial residents must convince Americans that not only is it OK to eat bugs, but desirable.
But why eat insects?
“The premise behind the name `Lithic' is people have been eating bugs since the Paleolithic era,” Dave said. “Our bodies know how to process them. About 80 percent of the world still eats insects regularly.”
While that may be true, Western society may still shy away from eating them. The Baughs say that their target audience is the “nutrionally conscious athlete” — including climbers, triathletes and Crossfit enthusiasts.
“That audience is typically more concerned about the quality of fuel that they're taking in,” Dave said.
They tout not only a high level of protein, but other nutrients like amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, vitamin B-12 and fiber.
And raising crickets is easier on the environment than larger animals, which they hope resonates with green, outdoorsy Coloradans.
“It has the highest conversion ratio of input to output,” Lars said.
“You can feed them byproducts, like barley hops and cornstalks,” Dave added. “They'll almost eat anything.”
The Baughs source their crickets from a farm in Thailand. They say that it takes less than a gallon of water to raise a pound of protein from crickets, compared to 2,800 gallons for a pound of beef. Crickets also have an advantage when it comes to land use.
“You can condense them into buckets, raise them vertically, compared to several acres for a pound of beef,” Dave said.
They also say crickets have an advantage over plant proteins, which do not contain essential amino acids that animal proteins do.
In Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, crickets are often deep-fried and eaten as a snack. But without knowing a Lithic bar contains about 60 of the tiny critters, you would never think you were eating insects by biting into one.
“It's not like a barbecued scorpion on a stick or something like you might see in Thailand,” Dave said. “We integrate everything as a powder, so you never see the insect to begin with.”
There are also no pictures of crickets on any of Lithic's branding.
They have set up their tent and handed out samples at events around the area over the last few months, like the Denver Veterans Day 5K and 10K, and are encouraged by the response they've received.
“Almost 100 percent of people are at least willing to try it,” Lars said. “There hasn't been as large of a barrier as we perceived there would be.”
“There are a couple other (types of insects) that I thought of, based on what I was eating all over Asia,” Dave said.
He said crickets are more ready-to-farm, with fewer variations than other
“There's starting to be some more bugs popping up here and there,” Lars said. “Mealworms are probably going to be the next innovation.”
They think that their choice of cricket is better than their competitors. They chose Acheta domesticus, or the house cricket, which they say has superior taste to Gryllodes sigillatus, or the banded cricket, in use by the small number of other U.S. companies in the same market.
“You only get one chance to prove to people cricket can taste good,” Dave said.