Treating judges to samples of pasta made with cricket powder helped Weslie Khoo and Haoshu Zhang’s team win the $7,500 grand prize at the Ag Springboard student business pitch contest in 2017.

Bold Foods served crickets and pasta made with crickets at NYC markets during spring and summer 2018.

Bold Foods served crickets and pasta made with crickets at NYC markets during spring and summer 2018.

Selling cricket-fortified pasta to adventurous eaters this past summer helped Weslie Khoo and Haoshu Zhang learn more about consumer acceptance of food made with insects, and netted them press coverage in New York City. Weslie Khoo, Founder, Bold Foods

Khoo, a Ph.D. student in food science and founder of Bold Foods, will talk about his journey as an entrepreneur and answer students' questions during an open house Sept. 18, 6-7:30 in 6 Armsby. More Ag Springboard open houses.

Zhang, co-founder of Bold Foods, finished her Ph.D., and works remotely on the venture.

Bold Foods made a splash this spring at the Queens Night Market, a cultural festival celebrating the diverse cultures in New York City.

"We know we have to reach out to people and we thought that going to a city that has a lot of people who have adventurous taste buds would be a good way to start," said Khoo.

Pasta is a 'gateway food'

Khoo and Zhang served whole crickets as the required ethnic food to have a stall at the festival, and served their cricket-fortified pasta on the side. On market nights, they sold about 100 servings of each offering.

Some of the courageous diners attending the festival were too squeamish to eat the whole crickets.

But pasta made with cricket powder was an easier sell, said Khoo.

"We see pasta as a gateway food," said Khoo. "They were surprised that it tastes like regular pasta or whole wheat pasta. They could not tell there were insects added to it.

"Most people don't have a good expectation or impression of insects, but then they realize it tastes like any other thing you can buy on the supermarket shelf right now. They are really pleasantly surprised."

Some who tried pasta first returned for whole crickets.

Building acceptance for insects as food

The ultimate goal is to introduce a larger audience to the idea of eating insect-based foods, said Khoo.

"We want people to overcome their fears and apprehension of eating insects," said Khoo.

Khoo and Zhang continued to work on consumer testing and plan the best way to bring the cricket-fortified pasta to market during the summer. They served pasta for six weekends at the Queens Night Market between April and August.

They also served pasta around other boroughs: the Hester Street Fair in Manhattan in July, at Artists & Fleas in Brooklyn in July and at the Bronx Night Market in the Bronx in August.

The product is a high-protein food with a sustainable food angle. Khoo and Zhang are looking to target Millennials.

"We are still using the Ag Springboard money, and then we are just borrowing money from friends and family for us to get a product that is validated by the market before we talk to investors," said Khoo.

Cricket Pasta team wins $7,500 first place prize at Ag Springboard 2017. Pasta 2050’s pitch for pasta made with cricket flour won first place and $7,500 Thursday April 13 in the Ag Springboard student business pitch contest. L to R: Dr. Mark Gagnon, Entrepreneurship Coordinator, Dean Richard Roush, College of Agricultural Sciences with Pasta 2050 team: Weslie Khoo, Ph.D. student in food science, Haoshu Zhang, Ph.D. student in food science and Lauriel Stewart, M.S. student in food science. (Photo by Cameron Hart)

The revenue from market sales covered some of the ingredient and travel costs, said Khoo. "Crickets are not cheap."

"But having customers actually getting excited about the product and talking to them and hearing their encouragement and seeing them return for more pasta and crickets …

"I cannot describe that satisfaction, but it's very satisfying. It's like 'we did it.' After all this planning, we put a product out there and people are paying money for it," said Khoo.

"I cannot describe that satisfaction, but it's very satisfying. It's like we did it. After all this planning, we put a product out there and people are paying money for it," said Khoo.

Meet Khoo, learn about his Ag Springboard experience -- and get advice to prepare for the Ag Sciences Career Day -- at the Ag Springboard open house Tues. Sept. 18, 6-7:30, 6 Armsby.

Bold Foods website.

Cricket-Fortified Pasta Pitch Wins $7,500 Ag Springboard Top Prize