Sustainability is a topic that impacts not only the pet industry, but the entire planet. Pet Age recently spoke with Anne Carlson, founder and CEO of Jiminy’s, a leading producer of sustainable dog food and treats using insect protein. Carlson was named 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year in the Food and Beverage category by the American Business Awards for her work on Jiminy’s.
How did the issue of climate change inspire you to seek alternative protein sources for pet food and treats?
Climate change doesn’t just stick out like a sore thumb. It’s more like a sore thumb on a bruised hand waving frantically in the air and pounding the table. So, as an issue, the one thing it does bring to the table is inspiration. My search for my next project was already on a course for something sustainable, and now my antennae were up—pun intended—on climate change when I came across a UN study that argued for insects as a global source of protein. Further digging found that insects could be a nexus point for sustainability and climate change, so I had my North Star going forward. This really gets the ball rolling fast because you now have a lens to evaluate all of your subsequent moves.
My particular insight came from my background in pet as none of the research sources had accounted for pets which, of course, dovetailed perfectly with my experience. Three years later, I have a company, Jiminy’s, which has saved millions of gallons of water and has substantially reduced greenhouse gases using the pet channel. Our food and treats are revolutionary and prove that our industry can stand for more than great taste and high quality ingredients. We can make products with purpose and lead to a better world.
What can you tell us about insects being a more sustainable alternative to traditional protein sources?
First off, insect protein doesn’t play at the margins saving a little here and a little there. The gains go arrow-straight to the heart of the problem and the savings of water and land are stunning. Cricket protein, for instance, uses exponentially less land, emits almost no greenhouse gases, and saves water on an enormous scale compared to traditional proteins. Methane is a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2 so eliminating those emissions translate to meaningful and faster progress on Climate Change. Our Jiminy’s food and treats do the job. Measured by Carbon Credit Capital in a ‘cradle to-manufacture’ life cycle assessment, our treats emit 740 percent less greenhouse gases than beef treats and 270 percent less than chicken treats.
Regarding water, a 5-ounce bag of Jiminy’s treats saves 220 gallons of water compared to the same-sized bag of a beef treat. Since a cricket farm is basically a barn, it allows you to potentially better those numbers as the farms could go vertical and be placed within a city. That translates into even less land and less shipping. Personally, the humane treatment of the insects is incredibly moving to me and I feel good knowing we’re saving animals from harm. Our crickets are a swarming species that like to live in a warm, dark and moist environment and that’s exactly what they get.
As society continues to grapple with COVID-19, I expect there will be a greater awareness of where and how we source our pets’ food. The foods that are rooted in sustainability should have an advantage as it’s become clear we’re overreaching our boundaries in the search for crop lands and water. We need to pull back from the demands traditional proteins make on our eco-systems. Jiminy’s is the tangible step forward pet parents can take to help ensure we never have to go through this again.
What recent research has been conducted on the nutritional benefits of insect proteins for dogs?
When we started, there was still a question about whether dogs can digest cricket protein. We looked for a definitive answer and—proud to say—Jiminy’s was the driving force behind the recently completed cricket protein studies for dogs.
There were a lot of great studies demonstrating other animals (like piglets) thriving on cricket protein, but there weren’t as many for our favorite species: dogs. Jiminy’s brought together experts in animal nutrition, entomology and microbiology along with cricket producers—no small feat as everyone’s scattered all over the country—to deep dive into digestibility and gut health. Working with Iowa State, we confirmed that cricket protein is a high quality, digestible protein for dogs (scoring as high in digestibility as chicken and beef).
We then partnered with AnimalBiome (a California-based company) to study the impact of cricket protein’s fiber component on the dog’s gut. They discovered—and this is great news with a capital “G”—that cricket protein supports a healthy, balanced level of gut bacteria diversity (the gut micro-biome) in dogs. So, our cricket protein is pre-biotic! All of the studies have been peer reviewed and published. In addition, a GRAS expert panel has found cricket protein to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS).
What are some of the lesser known benefits of insect proteins for pets?
You might think a creature so small would be missing a lot of amino acids, vitamins and such, but that assumption would be a mistake. Our insect protein is a complete protein with all of the essential amino acids and cricket protein meets or exceeds all of the amino acid levels recommended by AAFCO. Dogs must receive the essential amino acids from diet, as their bodies can’t produce them at the required levels, so having a complete array of amino acids is crucial. This also differentiates us from plant proteins, which don’t possess a complete amino acid profile naturally (and I love the array of alternative proteins coming into the market).
Additionally, cricket protein is a great source of Vitamin B12 (also known as cobalamin) and it’s essential for a healthy nervous system and brain function, as well as the formation and growth of blood cells. B12 is also a positive influence for intestinal health, so, of course, your dog needs B12 to maintain healthy digestion.
Cricket protein contains taurine and this amino acid is vital to your dog’s overall health, which includes his kidneys, blood, heart, eyes and brain. Taurine provides the flow of elements to and from your dog’s cellular structures. That’s as important as it sounds.
I touched on this earlier—Jiminy’s products are made with insects raised in barns which are essentially indoor farms. Insects raised in these clean indoor farms have been found to be free of common pathogens e.g., E. coli, salmonella, staph and listeria that have plagued the meat industry. This is a huge positive and I think it will be an issue that becomes increasingly important right now and even more so in the very near future.
Finally, if you have a dog with allergies, an alternative protein (like cricket or grubs) can be a great solution. Beef, chicken, lamb, soy and even fish are the most common ingredients that can trigger dog allergies. Vets are already using Jiminy’s in elimination diets because cricket protein is not an allergen. Groomers are on the front lines of this issue and we’ve been an option they can offer harried clients. I feel especially happy we can offer a dog and his pet parent relief in this area. It’s so distressing and immediate to see your pup suffering with an allergy.
Why can consumers expect their dogs to find insect food and treats to be as palatable as those containing traditional proteins?
Right out of the gate, one of the first questions I had was, will dogs like this? Pretty fundamental, I think. I ordered some crickets online and gave them to my dogs. The proof was in the pudding, well, drool, and it was pretty clear they loved it. Of course, I’ve tried cricket protein myself—countless times—and it does taste good! It’s nutty and a bit earthy, so it makes sense that the dogs love it. Plus, if you ever watch your dog in your backyard, he’s eating bugs all day long. We’re a return to the wild!T