And Try Our Once-Every-17-Years Cicada Crunchy Crackle

In Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, PracticesPeter Drucker pointed out the difference between animals with skeletons and “the insect, which is held together by a tough, hard skin,” noting that the English biologist D’Arcy Thompson had “showed that animals supported by a hard skin can reach only a certain size and complexity.”

That has implications for how to structure a business. But it also makes insects relatively easy to munch on, if that’s what you fancy.

Though small, insects are packed with protein—and they’re much easier on the earth than are animals raised through traditional means of husbandry. That’s why Brooklyn-based entrepreneurs Greg Sewitz and Gabi Lewis have launched a company, Exo, that produces protein bars with traditional ingredients like nuts and less-traditional ingredients—namely, crickets.

“In the 1960s, the idea of eating raw fish seemed disgusting to most Americans until a chef in Los Angeles created the California Roll, which replaced toro with avocado and put the rice on the outside,” Lewis says in an interview published today in Forbes. “It’s about getting people to try something new and change their associations with particular foods.”

In this way, Sewitz and Lewis are trying to exploit what Drucker called an “innovative opportunity”—more specifically, a change in perception. (We just wrote about this same source of innovation, in an entirely different context, for Time.)

“The very core of our business is trying to change the way people think about an untapped food source,” Lewis explains.

An insect buffet at a Beijing market. Photo credit: thewamphyri
An insect buffet at a Beijing market. Photo credit: thewamphyri

To succeed, the cricket guys will need to tap into the growing perception that our global environmental challenges are now so great, they require people to make real lifestyle changes—right down to their diets. To many, after all, eating bugs will be tougher to swallow than, say, driving a hybrid car.

For now, Exo is producing on a modest scale while gauging whether U.S. consumers are truly ready to be converted into cricket enthusiasts. That’s a good thing. As Drucker warned in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, “Precisely because it is so uncertain whether a change in perception is a fad or permanent, and what the consequences really are, perception-based innovation has to start small and be very specific.”

In the end, only one measure will gauge whether Exo’s innovation worked: the company’s profitability. “A business management has failed if it fails to produce economic results,” Drucker wrote in People and Performance. “It has failed if it does not supply goods and services desired by the consumer at a price the consumer is willing to pay.”

We admit we’re not rushing to the supermarket cricket aisle just yet, but we wish Exo the best of luck. Or break a leg—you have five more.

What businesses do you think have done especially well at exploiting changes in perception?