Megan Miller is cofounder of Bitty Foods, a San Francisco-based company that makes snacks with cricket flour.
Megan’s passions for sustainability, health and innovation have forged her diverse professional background, from sustainable agriculture education to cooking in a fine dining restaurant to designing an award-winning iPhone fitness app. Surrounded by the Bay Area’s food and entrepreneurship communities, she became captivated by the idea of popularizing cricket flour as a sustainable protein source and launched Bitty Foods to bring that dream to fruition.
How did you become interested in environmental work?
Environmental work has been a part of my life since I was very young. I’ve always loved the outdoors and I realized, even as a child, the importance of preserving the places I like to play. Growing up in Maryland, I had a pony and used to ride on the trails in public and private forests. Later I became interested in hiking, climbing, and cycling. In high school and college, I developed a passion for healthy cooking and became interested in growing my own food. I parlayed that interest into an internship at the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education department and, when I graduated, into a job as an outdoor educator.
What environmental issues are of most concern to you?
My biggest concern is climate change and the factors influencing it, like overpopulation, carbon emissions, and industrial farming. That’s a lot to bite off, so at Bitty Foods, we’re focused on introducing a highly sustainable source of protein to the Western world to help mitigate the impact of these activities. We hope to both draw attention to the problems at hand and introduce a plausible solution.
The world population is estimated to surpass 9 billion people by 2050, and our current food production practices are not scalable to meet the needs of all these new people. The biggest problem is meat, which requires a lot of land and water to grow. Plant-based proteins are a huge part of the solution, but they also require quite a lot of water. In drought-threatened areas like California, we need to introduce new crops that are both highly water efficient and highly nutritious. Surprisingly, the most promising crops to fit that bill are insects. At Bitty Foods, we make protein powder from crickets and use it to boost the nutrition of foods that are usually carbohydrate rich, like baked goods and snacks. Crickets emit less than 1% of the greenhouse gases of other animals and can be grown in small spaces, using 250x less water than soybeans (and 2500x less water than beef!). This year, we launched Chiridos, a really tasty air-puffed, cricket flour snack chip aimed at introducing insect protein to mainstream Americans.
What inspired you to start your business and how did you take the leap to start it?
I started learning about entrepreneurship, and the nuts and bolts of how to start a business, about nine years ago when I was chosen to attend a corporate “intrapreneurship” program at the big company where I used to work. I knew I wanted to take the leap and start my own business someday. In 2012, while vacationing in Thailand and Cambodia, I had the opportunity to eat insects as part of the local cuisines and I got curious and did some online research about the nutrition metrics. I learned that insects are incredibly nutritious at about 70% protein, with good fats, fiber content and tons of iron and vitamin B12. And they also happen to be extremely eco-friendly. My friend (and now business partner) Leslie Ziegler and I started playing around with making cricket flour at home and I brought our high-protein baked goods to the office. My colleagues thought I was crazy until the United Nations published a major research report in 2013 concluding that edible insects have the potential to become an important input to eliminating food scarcity by stabilizing the global food supply. I applied—and was selected—to give a talk at TEDx Manhattan about the promise of insects as a protein source, and I served cricket flour cookies at the lunch break. They were a surprise hit! My TED Talk ended up getting a bunch of great press and lots of people wanted to buy the cookies. Leslie and I threw up a quick website and accepted pre-orders for the cookies and Bitty Foods was born! Basically, we had revenue before we really even had a company, which was a great signal that people are more ready for to try edible insect-based foods than we might imagine. Our idea had legs, to make a terrible pun, so I ended up quitting my corporate job and committing to it full time. We bootstrapped the company for a little while, and then raised a round of seed funding with some great investors who believe in us. Now we’re just trying really hard to get our products into the hands of as many people as possible so that everyone can have a delicious first experience with crickets—the sustainable food of the future!