A central Iowa businesswoman reports a growing interest for her insect-based protein selections, despite challenges related to a global health pandemic.
Shelby Smith founded Gym-N-Eat Crickets in 2018. Smith began raising crickets in the breakroom of her father’s shop, which “generously” measured “300 square feet in total,” processed crickets in her mother’s kitchen, and sold her protein-filled product at the Ames Main Street Farmers’ Market.
“Believe it or not, I ending up selling out of every cricket I raised in 2018, in what I would call ‘meat and potatoes country.’ I was shocked by the response from the public,” Smith says.
Smith then brainstormed ways to expand her business, to supply consumers with insect protein. She then built a “cricket castle” and purchased building space for processing.
“(In) the spring of 2019, I built my own cricket castle, as I call it. It was a single-wide mobile home that was going to a landfill. We repurposed it into a cricket-rearing facility, which increased my production capacity,” Smith says. “I moved onto the larger Des Moines Farmers’ Market, and still couldn’t keep up with demand, even with the expanded production. So I decided to go with a familiar model in the swine and poultry industry.”
“Now I have five contract growers across the state who grow crickets for me. Then the other half of it is I moved out of my mom’s kitchen,” Smith says. “I bought a building in Collins, IA, and put my processing facility there. So I’m licensed as a food processor in the state of Iowa.”
Becoming a licensed food processor has greatly benefited Smith, especially as her business weathers the storm, known as the coronavirus pandemic. Learn how Gym-N-Eat Crickets has adapted to today’s challenges in Part Two of this series.