Jessica Buhl-Nielsen and Malena Sigurgeirsdóttir, HEY PLANET, Denmark
Jessica and Malena founded Hey Planet in 2016 with the vision to change the food and agriculture system to be more sustainable by integrating edible insects into our diet.www.heyplanet.com
"Our dream for the hopefully-not-so-distant-future,
when we start making a surplus,
is to fight malnutrition worldwide
with our products.”
The increasing consumption of meat is damaging our environment and also our health. In fact, the production of meat from traditional livestock emits more CO2 than the entire global transport sector.
Our vision is to change the food and agriculture system to be more sustainable. So, years ago, we went searching for the most resource-efficient and nutritious alternative protein that our planet has to offer. Little did we know that the solution would be edible insects!
Today, we are a small team with a big mission: To make edible insects a normal part of our diet.
Lisbeth: Dear Jessica and Malena, Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us. I'm very happy to introduce such visionary women to the WOMEN FOR HUMANITY community.
Please tell us a little about you as young girls. Did you already dreamed of making a change for the world then?
Jessica: I have definitely been impacted by my family - my dad a social anthropologist has spent his working life travelling to distant locations to give voice to indigenous people – and my mother a child and adolescent psychiatrist who grew up in Tanzania has also always had a global outlook and a lot of empathy towards vulnerable people. I’ve also been fortunate to have some great teachers who were passionate about global warming and saving resources, and so all these experiences have definitely shaped my understanding of the world. I’ve chosen university studies where I could focus on how to make a positive impact out in the world through sustainable business solutions, which led me to work with NGO’s, UN Women and later to take the social entrepreneurship journey – a place where I feel I make the biggest impact.
Malena: Yes I was. I was very fond of watching nature and animal programs in the television, when I was a kid. I started to worry a lot about the future and used a lot of energy in school doing projects about the global warming effect and deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. I actively decided to become 100% vegetarian when I was 11-12 years old - inspired by my own family in Iceland - mostly my aunt. Later I decided to focus my studies on environmental economics and agricultural development - focusing on sustainable methods.
Both: Both of us have a shared passion to create a positive impact in the world, a world where our consumption patterns are driving climate change, loss of biodiversity and food insecurity. We have been shaped by our upbringing in different ways. Malena has always been passionate about nature and animals and decided early on to be a vegetarian and specialize in agricultural studies. Jessica has been driven by social justice and using business and societal analysis as a tool to create change.
Lisbeth: Please tell us how it all started? How did you meet? And how did your different backgrounds help you in starting the company?
J & M: We met four years ago in Copenhagen by way of coincidence. We got to talking about all the things wrong with the world: climate change, gender inequality, malnutrition and so on, and Malena kept arguing that insects are the solution – to everything. I (Jessica) had just gone out of another start-up company and was intrigued by all Malena’s arguments for eating insects – it sounded fascinating, innovative and full of potential but at the same time I had a very hard time imagining myself eating them.
So, Malena invited to me to dinner and served wox moth larvae risotto! It was quite the challenge to take the first bite, but the mental barrier just clicked away afterwards and I felt silly for being so afraid. Because it actually tasted really good! It was also very nutritious and a sustainable solution – we had to make this more accessible and acceptable among people here in Europe! I (Jessica) already had experience with setting up a company and Malena had all the knowledge about insects and food production – so we were the perfect team to start something new.
We went on a quest to bring the most delicious and nutritious insect-based foods out into the world and decided to start with snacks with insect powder.
Lisbeth: Please take us through the benefice of using insects?
J & M : All the facts are here: https://www.hey-planet.com/pages/why-insects-hey-planet
To sum up: insects taste delicious, they are little nutrition bombs full of protein, vitamin B12, iron, fibre and Omega-3 and they are very sustainable to produce require very little land, water, feed and emitting a small amount of CO2.
Eating insects give you the nutritional benefits of eating beef, fish and rye bread, but has a climate impact similar to plants!
In a world with a growing population and a planet under huge stress to produce all the protein we need, it is essential we start to eat alternatives to meat.
Lisbeth: Which insects are you using and where are they bred?
J & M: We mainly use the buffalo beetles, which are bred in a vertical farm in Holland. They are fed on organic side streams, including spent grain from breweries and vegetables.
Lisbeth: You are both moms and make delicious baby food out of your insect powder. What kind of food do you make for them?
J & M: From when a baby is about 5 months and start weaning, it is recommended they eat fish or meat once a day. Preparing fish and meat that is easy to chew and can last more than a few days (a baby rarely eats a whole packet within that time) can be tricky. We use our nutrition powder (100% powdered buffalo beetles) and add a spoonful to their porridge in the morning. When they get a little older adding the powder to banana pancakes or bread is another great way of including extra nutrition. In that way we avoid having to serve a lot of meat, which we want to avoid for environmental reasons.
It’s such a great way to ensure they get the daily dose of iron, protein and vitamin B12 that they need.
Lisbeth: What are your top ten products?
J & M: Our Dare Squares are popular as a gift especially around Christmas.
Our bars are a great every-day snack, also a super good healthy afternoon snack for you and your kids.
We recently launched a crisp-bread with crickets, we get a lot of feedback from people saying they are really delicious! We still haven’t launched them in the shops, but imagine they could become quite popular.
Our favourite burger is a minced meat we’ve spent some years developing. It’s made from insects (buffalo beetles) but looks just like normal minced beef. It has a nice flavour of mushrooms or roasted pork when you fry it, and it’s super healhthy. So we can’t wait until we can finally launch it together with restaurants.
Lisbeth: What are your goals / your mission for the future with Hey-Planet?
J & M: Our mission is to redefine our understanding of what food is and make insects more accepted and widely accessible with our delicious and nutritious food products.
Lisbeth: You have just been through some tough times and had to change your name? How do you tackle problems like this?
J & M: We have been through quite some turbulence this year and sometimes wondered whether it would be easier to give up and go get a normal job. But it never becomes more than a distant idea – Malena and I are so set on our goals and motivated to make a difference and create a whole new food industry that somehow we just keep going.
We are good at quickly understanding the challenge, scoping it and creating a plan for how to solve it. We have managed to turn most challenges into new opportunites (as cliché as that sounds). For instance, having to change our name (for the second time) was a huge headache, expense, difficult and somewhat embarrassing. But we thought, “ok what’s the worst that can happen? Let’s give it our all, make a new name and identity and try it out.” It turns out that we absolutely love our new identity and actually think it positions us stronger than before.
Lisbeth: Can you highlight one of the experiences you learned from the most?
J & M :A few years ago, we were lucky to get a hold of the buyer of a Danish fitness chain. The buyer was excited about our products and we managed to sell in our bars even though they weren’t ready yet (we hadn’t produced them on a large scale before). He got back to us after our meeting and said we should deliver in 2 months time, when we hesitated he said if we couldn’t deliver we would have to wait at least 6 months for the next opening. We were pretty set on getting that big order and perhaps got carried away by the entrepreneurial spirit and said we could deliver within 2 months.
Everything actually went really well. We got our bars in all the fitness centres and we started making a marketing plan. But after about 1 month we realised that one of the bars started tasting funny. Somehow the coconut and lime combination started reacting and became almost inedible. We tried to convince the buyer that this was a mistake and please could we just replace the bars (on our account), but he said no – we were out, the bars weren’t selling enough.
This was a huge learning experience for us on many levels. Both in terms of product development, in terms of marketing and competition on a hardcore fitness protein bar market, and in terms of our mindset. We have learned the importance of doing things well, rather than always doing them as quickly as possible in order to secure long term success.
Lisbeth: What is the most important thing you have learned about yourself in the process of building Hey-Planet?
J & M: We have learned that we are extremely dedicated to our vision and motivated by making an impact. We’ve learned that even though we don’t have a lot of colleagues who give us feedback and make us feel acknowledged all the time, what we do still matters and makes a difference, and we are good at it.
Lisbeth: Do you have a motto or a saying that guides you?
J & M: YES ! Hakuna Matata!
Lisbeth What is your best piece of advice for people who want to live out their dreams?
J & M:Try it out – test it as soon as possible, get feedback, learn and improve.
Lisbeth: What can you tell us about you that we can’t read on your website?
J & M :Creating our company isn’t only about getting people to eat insects. We are dedicated to changing the food system, and making people aware of the impact of their diets.
Our favourite time of year is spring, when we go camping together in Sweden for the weekend and just spend time in nature, kayaking, walking, making food by the fireside.
Lisbeth: Looking back on this adventure; Would you do this over again?
J & M: Yes!
Dear both, thank you so much for taking the time to share your exciting universe with us.
I think your products looks very appetizing and I'm sure that a lot of us want to try out this new source of protein. I invite everybody to go to the website and check out the recipes and to learn more about Jessica and Malena's fight for a more sustainable future.