Interview with Conal Cunningham, founder of Mr Bug

In today’s Behind the Biz interview I’m chatting with Conal Cunningham, the founder of Mr Bug – sustainable and ethical bug based treats for dogs.

If you’re into finding out about new and emerging industires like I am then you’ll love today’s interview.

Let’s set the scene

Mr Bug is the South West’s 1st insect farm, breeding plump, nutrient-dense mealworms in rural Devon. In its 1st incarnation, this top-grade insect protein will be used to create the last word in discerning dog treats (Mr Bug Bites) confident that as soon as government legislation relaxes, the next priority will be adding human products to the mix (entovegan protein shakes…).

To help set the scene, it’s worth noting that latest estimates suggest that there will be a protein shortage by 2025 as traditional farming with its poor sustainable track record grinds to a halt; even though insect protein will already be a $8bn category by then.

Farming insects uses between 60-90% less land per kg protein, 50-80% less feed per kg of edible weight whilst producing 1,000-2700 less GHGEs (greenhouse gas emissions).    

The simple reality is that dog food places a heavy burden on our planet, with the environmental impact of total pet food equating to a land mass twice the size of the UK.

Please give us an overview of Mr Bug

Whilst dog food has made enormous strides in recent years with a number of category disruptors challenging the pre-eminence of the old school ‘conveyor belt’ multinationals to create an array of vibrant healthier dog offerings (BARF, grain-free, organic, superior gut health..) pet treats has remained something of a nutritional backwater with vague altogether greyer boundaries. The result is that too many propositions are riddled with salt, sugar, ‘lazy grain’ fillers and low-grade meats.

Mr Bug is all about combining best-in-class mealworm powder with an array of tasty real ingredients (apples, cranberries, peanut butter, sweet potatoes, parsnips, beetroot and vegan cheese). 

Now of course there have been insect-themed foods and treats before Mr Bug, but these primarily championed the sour-tasting black fly larvae, a popular cattle feed filler. Yes, black fly larvae are also ‘nutritionally ripped’ but increasingly latest research shows that they are packed with unwelcome saturated fats.

Conal Cunningham advocates building a brand that champions the circular economy with podgy mealworms fed on Cornish bran, a nutritious by-product of local wheat milling which makes a digestible, healthy mono-protein. The resulting frass (mealworm poo) acts as a nutritious all-natural fertiliser that supports the next wheat harvest.       

What made you decide to set up Mr Bug?

With COVID 19 making its debilitating presence felt, I came to the conclusion that London wasn’t quite so family-friendly as it had once seemed. An inner voice was calling for me to return to Devon, a place I’d got to know from my time in the marines; a place where the Cunningham clan could enjoy fresh air, acres of greenness and a superior work-life balance.  

The idea of owning a bug farm had been burrowing away for a while in my head, so I sat down with a good friend who’d escaped to the countryside a few years earlier and over a few beers convinced him to join me in my ambitious business venture.  

How do you choose your flavour formats?

The rules are quite flexible as long as the ingredients are simple, natural, nutritionally well-rounded and have nothing to do with palm oil or soy. 

What did you do before Mr Bug?

I’ve never been someone who let the grass grow under his feet; from being expelled from school to a short, heart-pounding shift in the marines. Eventually I moved to London with my guitar, a pocket full of plectrums buoyed with a niggling suspicion that I might well be the next big thing in rock!  

I wasn’t! A little success did ensue but not on a life-changing scale, which was about the time I turned my attention to setting up a state-of-the-art Shepherd’s Bush studio, which to many people’s surprise (Including me), became a rip-roaring success.

How did the lockdowns of 2019 impact Mr Bug?

Absolutely! As outlined earlier, it was the pandemic that paved the way for Mr Bug’s emergence.

Did you always plan to go down an entrepreneurial route?

For as long as I can remember!

Please share a business high and low with us

High: Winning a Nourish Gold (a nutritional integrity award for human food) ranks pretty highly.

Low: The documentation involved in securing government grants & DEFRA status were exhausting but ultimately worthwhile (Mr Bug has thus far secured a farming transformation and an Innovate application award).

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Trust your instincts!

Thank you so much to Conal Cunningham for taking the time to share the story behind Mr Bug. I’m looking forward to seeing how his business develops and the edible insect industry as a whole.

Find out more about Mr Bug over on the website, buy the dog treats and check out their social channels – Instagram and Facebook.