Chirps cricket chips wins first-ever SNAC Tank at SNAXPO19

By Kristine Sherred

- Last updated on GMT

Chirps co-founder Laura D'Asaro would like to 'slowly introduce bugs as an ingredient' within the next five years, winning $20,000 in the inaugural SNAC Tank competition for her pitch.
Chirps co-founder Laura D'Asaro would like to 'slowly introduce bugs as an ingredient' within the next five years, winning $20,000 in the inaugural SNAC Tank competition for her pitch.

Related tags Snac International crickets alternative proteins Protein Tortilla chips Shark Tank Innovation Startup company Snacks expo

The cricket chip brand beat nine other startups to take first place in SNAC International’s inaugural challenge, modeled after the popular television show, Shark Tank.

‘Shark’ and real estate millionaire Barbara Corcoran emceed the event, held at  SNAXPO in Orlando, Florida (March 31 to April 2).

According to Chirps co-founder Laura D’Asaro, the concept behind the snack was to ’slowly introduce bugs’ as a regular ingredient in the American diet.

In 2017, the snack company secured a $100,000 deal from billionaire Mark Cuban on Shark Tank. The additional $20,000 from SNAC will help Chirps, which recently expanded its product portfolio to include cricket protein powder, expand distribution beyond the few hundred stores that already carry the chips.

D’Asaro was introduced to crickets while studying abroad in Tanzania, where cricket season “is like cherry season,”​ she told BakeryandSnacks.

She developed the brand with two classmates, Rose Wang and Meryl Breidbart, at the end of 2013 after finishing studies at Harvard University and hopes to see cricket products on every grocery store shelf. 

“I’ve never felt so sure about anything in my life,”​ she said. 

Crickets are a good source of protein and vitamin B12, and are far kinder on the environment as they can be farmed on less space than traditional livestock and require less water. 

Protein, better-for-you and indulgence

Shrewd Food / Pic: BakeryandSnacks

Four other finalists presented their snack ideas in the SNAC Tank competition.

Shrewd Food pitched a puffed snack made from milk protein isolate, available in flavors like Brickoven Pizza and Sriracha Cheddar.

Squeaky Pops offered a chickpea-based puffed rice chip geared towards kids, in two types of cheddar, as well as a sweeter variant: Apple & Cinnamon.

Brooklyn-based Legally Addictive showcased its hybrid cookie-cracker with chocolate and toffee, and Nora, an offshoot of Thai snack company Tao Kae Noi, featured its seaweed snacks, notably a tempura-battered version.

Squeaky Pops / Pic: BakeryandSnacks

Corcoran encouraged the entrepreneurs to hone their messages and focus on their passion, sharing her story of turning a $1,000 loan into a million-dollar real estate business.

Todate, she has invested in about a dozen food companies on Shark Tank, whose entrepreneurs tend to 'speak from the heart.'

She added it was important that people do not "feel sorry for themselves for more than a minute," ​and that succinct answers were key to convincing investors and consumers of a brand's value.

“You’ll get more customers with passion than you’ll ever get with logic,”​ she said. "We're all in sales; otherwise we wouldn't be in business."

The first SNAC Tank

Nora Seaweed Snack / Pic: BakeryandSnacks

SNAC International’s CEO Elizabeth Avery said the association landed on the pitch competition idea when discussing how to add excitement to the show.

"Entrepreneurs like these are what makes this category so exciting, and they continue to drive an expanding, evolving snack industry,"​ she said.

Established brands – meaning those already available for consumer purchase with demonstrable financial backing – were invited to submit a short video and application form, from which 10 finalists were chosen. All then had to provide samples of their products for the SNAC Tank showcase.

The finalists were given three minutes to pitch their brands onstage, followed by a round of questions from the judges.

Judges included Chris Olivier, co-founder of food consulting firm Craft Catalyst; Robert Bies, professor of management at Georgetown University; Tom Dempsey, former Utz CEO and former head of SNAC International; and Megan Reamer, co-founder of Jackson’s Honest, a snack brand that also secured a $1.25m Shark Tank deal in 2017.

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