Aspire Food Group CEO Mohammed Ashour
Material republished with the express permission of: London Free Press, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.

Aspire CEO Mohammed Ashour at the corner of Innovation and Concept Drives in London, Ontario, the site of the world’s largest insect protein manufacturing facility.

Aspire is taking aim at one of the biggest challenges of our time: food security

A pioneer in the field of sustainable insect agriculture, Aspire Food Group is building the world’s first fully automated food-grade insect protein manufacturing facility in London, Ontario.

Applying industrial automation and robotics, IoT and deep learning/analytics to farm and process crickets, Aspire is poised to revolutionize food-grade protein production—and put Ontario at the forefront of the emerging insect and sustainable protein industries.

A winning concept

Aspire uses cutting-edge smart technology to take farming to new heights
Aspire uses cutting-edge smart technology to take farming to new heights

Mohammed Ashour and four fellow students at McGill University hit on the idea of insects as food in 2013 when they decided to compete for the Hult Prize. The annual competition invites MBA students from all over the globe to solve the world’s most critical challenges. That year, the goal was to find solutions to enhance food security and scarcity.

Ashour’s team beat out 11,000 others, and with US$1 million in seed funding, courtesy of the Hult Prize, Aspire Food Group was born. Over the next five years, Ashour and his partners worked on developing and mastering the technology that would make it possible to sustainably farm crickets at scale and process them into a nutrient-rich protein alternative.

In 2019, the time came to commercialize, and the company began investigating sites in the U.S. and Canada.

Aspire was attracted by London’s thriving agri-food sector

“We left no stone unturned,” says Ashour, who notes they looked at about twenty different sites before choosing London.

“It won hands-down. London offers everything we need, starting with a vibrant and sophisticated food processing cluster that gives us access to suppliers and the right kinds of talent.”

London also provides innovative companies like Aspire with connections to domestic technology leaders in areas ranging from robotics to artificial intelligence, technologies necessary when you’re building the “first-of-a-kind.”

A proactive government that has your back

Then, there’s the city’s favourable business climate. “There’s a real can-do attitude in London,” says Ashour, “In fact, buying the land, getting all the permits in place and building the facility—most of it during COVID-19—went three to six months faster than it would have anywhere else, and that translates into millions of dollars in savings.”

Another advantage: Aspire tapped into substantial government support. NGen Canada, Canada’s advanced manufacturing supercluster, contributed $17 million toward the $90-million facility. Sustainable Development Technology Canada provided another $10 million.

Both funds focus on supporting transformative technologies to drive innovation in manufacturing and clean technology.

Robotic-powered watering system
Robotic-powered watering system

Aspire’s new 100,000 square-foot facility is close to completion, and Ashour is confident the first harvest will take place at the end of March 2022. Annually, the London facility will produce 12 million kilos of crickets. To put that in perspective, if the same land parcel was used to farm cattle—which offer the same protein quality—it would produce a few thousand kilos.

Once the facility is up and running, what’s next for Aspire?

“We have 12 acres in London, and our current plant takes up only 40% of it, so we can easily double our footprint.”

But it’s the prospect for global growth that really excites Ashour. “The technology we’ve developed—and will continue to refine—is automated and modular so that it can be scaled and used in any geography.

Learn more about Ontario’s robust food and beverage manufacturing sector.