Radek Husek of Sens Foods tells us about maximal nutrition, minimal harm.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Radek Husek: So far, my family and I are doing great, despite the pandemic. We’ve been quite lucky and haven’t had any (health) problems yet.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Sens Foods.
Radek Husek: I am 28 years old, live and work in Berlin. Before I started my Masters at LSE I founded Sens Foods with my cofounder Daniel Vach. The idea behind Sens was to create both nutritious and sustainable food that anyone can afford by deriving protein from insects – in our case, crickets. At this point, we sell a variety of protein bars, pasta, a protein blend along with pure cricket flour in our online shop, as well as selected supermarket chains and fitness studios.
How does Sens Foods innovate?
Radek Husek: It is my mission to make sustainable food made from cricket protein affordable for everyone, thereby both protecting the environment and promoting animal welfare. The numbers say it all: while crickets have equivalent protein quality to premium beef, in direct comparison, 2,000 times less water is used to raise, keep and process the insects.
The UN and the EU Commission have recognized insects as an important food for increasing the sustainability and resilience of our food system.
We also built our own cricket farm in Thailand. There, a team of scientists is working to make cricket protein production more efficient through biological research and automation.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Radek Husek: We heard about some virus in January as lots of Chinese left Wuhan to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we have our farm. Our visits to the farm got canceled as the Thai government put on an even stricter lockdown than we have in Europe.
In January, we introduced completely new Sens products with great recipes and beautiful packaging. The first step was to recall old products and relist new ones, which turned out to be quite time-consuming. By March, we were selling new products in half of the stores, and then corona happened. Supermarkets got completely overwhelmed with the demand for rice and toilet paper. Obviously, our distribution in gyms and sports centers got closed completely.
Hence, online was the way to save the company! We rebuilt our website and started selling. So that at least saved us in the end. Due to Corona, we also started offering megapacks of products for people to stock up during lockdown. This quickly became quite popular. Besides that, we delivered 20 000 Sens products to an initiative supporting doctors in hospitals.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Radek Husek: Besides our quick pivot to online, we originally planned and prepared on offering our samples at sports events, conferences etc. So we hired a team and filled our 2020 calendar. Then in March, we had to face the reality of everything being canceled, which meant setting loose the sampling team and canceling our plans for the entire year. That was hard but necessary. Without this, we would have had a very short runway as a company.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Sens Foods in the future?
Radek Husek: During lockdowns, I started to work even more as there was nothing much going on and also, the challenges we were facing were life-threatening. I myself doubled down on regular sports, proper food, quality sleep, meditation and support from my girlfriend. My girlfriend and I are both doing home office and have really learnt to enjoy our routine.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Radek Husek: Market with insect products already went through a general hype, and lots of smaller startups didn’t make it in the end. It seems we have fewer and fewer competitors from our niche, but the sustainable food trend is getting bigger and bigger. We often say we don’t sell bugs but sell sustainable food. As for sustainability, we believe that the coronavirus pandemic really has shown how dependent we are on a resilient supply chain and highlighted the need to make our food system sustainable. That’s also why for example, the European Commission published their FarmToFork strategy exactly in the first wave of the pandemic and committed to supporting research in insect proteins.
Your final thoughts?
Radek Husek: I actually first read about pandemics in a book about edible insects in 2016. Back then, I just flipped over to the next pages, not giving much of a thought, really. But now, with everything that has happened, I understand what they were getting at. SARS, Covid-19, swine flue and others are all a result of how we treat animals for food. This has to change! Insects are so different from humans compared to other animals that they do not have any diseases that could be threatening to humans. So we don’t use antibiotics on our farm. We don’t need to. That’s why we believe we need to make farming more sustainable and why we believe in cricket protein.