When you think about insects, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t usually anything too pleasant—more often than not, these creepy crawlies give most the shudders and are often thought of as pests that have to be dealt with. Go a step further and think of insects as food, and you’d imagine street-side stalls in Bangkok dishing out fried crickets or locusts to nonplussed locals and fascinated tourists.
But insects might just be the future. Their exoskeletons contain chitosan, a sugar that we’re only just beginning to explore the uses for, such as reducing how much fat and cholesterol the body absorbs
from foods, or helping blood clot when applied to wounds. Combining it with other materials might even provide for the future building blocks in a Martian environment.
And while we’re still some time away from making insects a part of a regular human diet, the general consensus is that they have a high protein content and excellent production efficiency compared to other conventional food groups—all good news in a world that’s waking up to the fact that traditional methods of agriculture and farming will no longer be able to supply our needs.
All of this explains why Supreme Grubs
’ founder Nikola Rudic shuttles regularly between Singapore—which he calls home—and China, where the company’s large farms house a massive population of black soldier flies and their larvae. Rudic admits that he, too, was initially grossed out by black soldier flies, but that was soon overcome by how beneficial they can be, especially in the system that Supreme Grubs
Here, we speak to Rudic to find out more about how Supreme Grubs came about, and his experience being an Amazon Global Seller.
Nikola Rudic and his Singaporean wife on the Supreme Grubs farm
1. Tell us a bit more about yourself and your background. Did you ever imagine you would be selling black soldier fly larvae?
I grew up in Serbia and moved to the United States to finish high school. After that, I moved to Switzerland to study economics, but I never worked in the field. I first came to Singapore in 2010 for an exchange semester in university, and fell in love with Singapore right away. I made a decision to move here permanently in 2012, and started considering myself half-Singaporean since I married my Singaporean wife in 2019.
I was always interested in food, especially in what we’d be eating in the future, and how we’re going to have enough food for everyone. As a kid, a movie that left a really big impression on me was Soylent Green, a movie from 1973 that was coincidentally set in 2022. It predicted a future in which all the food we enjoy nowadays like vegetables and fruits are all gone, and at the end of the story (spoiler alert) you find out that these nutritional wafers, soylent green, are actually made up of dead people because there was simply no other source of nutrients. I’m trying to avoid that kind of scenario! There are many new food tech advancements now, such as lab-grown cell-based or plant-based meats, and of course, the use of insects in food and feeds—which is what Supreme Grubs does.
While they aren’t pretty, black soldier flies are one of the most beneficial flies in existence and are considered non-pests.
2. Can you tell us more about how Supreme Grubs came about?
My father -in-law partnered with a professor from South China Agricultural University to focus on the commercialization of black soldier fly products, and their use in managing organic waste. The company is called Bioforte, and there are quite a few competitors now, but they were the pioneers in 2014 in China. I only got involved in the business later on; in about 2020, I started thinking about branching out the business and going B2C. At that point, the company was predominantly selling to big farms, but also also supplying to companies that were resellers. So, I thought, why not make our own brand instead of selling to others? That’s how Supreme Grubs was started, and we launched on Amazon in May 2021 selling to the US on Amazon.com
, then in March 2022 in Singapore on Amazon.sg
3. What was your research process like? What did you do to increase the volume of your sales?
Research is done predominantly on product and keyword research tools such as Helium10
. The main idea is to size the online selling potential, and how that demand is distributed across the brands/sellers—large product categories (in terms of revenue) where market share is split across many smaller sellers are categories which would be more friendly toward a new seller. Some categories can be competitive but there are still categories that are easy to penetrate. Standing out from others entails plenty of research and putting in the effort to create a product which is really unique (or can be marketed and understood to be as unique).
When planning to launch a store on an e-commerce site, sellers either find a need and then develop demand for their product—fairly complex if you’re a pioneer, but it may end up being more lucrative. I took a less risky approach, because I knew of other companies that were selling a similar product. So I knew that there was consumer demand, and it was a category that wasn’t too difficult to get in. The most important tip is to do research, then formulate your marketing message, and if possible, tweak the product to address the consumer needs. The players in the Amazon black soldier flies category at that point of time did have quite a high number of ratings, so the battle was really just trying to get beyond that critical mass so that the product could move a bit smoother without having to pay too much for advertising.
Large categories (in terms of revenue) where market share is split across many smaller sellers are categories which would be more friendly toward a new seller
Nikola RudicFounder of Supreme Grubs, Amazon seller in the US and Singapore
The black soldier fly farm in China
4. What considerations did you have when it came to selling on Amazon, and what are the benefits of selling through Amazon versus directly from your own site?
I think the biggest factor was that I knew that the biggest opportunity was in the States. Not many countries currently still allow black soldier fly larvae—for example, you need a permit in Europe and pre-market approval in Canada. But the US is quite open in that sense. Also, being from Singapore, I couldn’t just move to the States. I needed an option where I could be wherever I wanted to be, and sell to the US. I also could not just accept US orders through my website because I needed a fulfillment centre. I needed something that would help me run the entire thing in the States even though there’s no one physically working for Supreme Grubs there, so that’s where Amazon came in. I’ve always used Fulfillment By Amazon
, which is a financial investment, especially in the US, but the amount of time it has saved me as well as the speed of delivery offered to customers is something that is hard to beat. I would not be able to sell internationally if it wasn’t for Amazon, which has been of immense help. I believe not being on Amazon would be a very big loss of potential sales; big brands might have the luxury of not being on Amazon, but for those starting out, it’s almost a must.
5. What were some of the early challenges that the brand faced, or key lessons you’ve learnt along the way as an Amazon Global seller?
The initial administrative things were challenging, from registering the profile, to packaging and labelling—all these admin things took some time, but it’s something that every business will have to go through. Another initial challenge was the pain of not knowing the category benchmarks, like the usual cost per click (CPC) for this product in the industry. Should I be expecting to pay USD0.50 or USD0.02 per click? Because that changes the entire calculation. But unless you try it, you’re not going to know. There’s always that sort of risk involved, though it can be minimized. Maybe your first batch might not be as profitable because you didn’t ship a full container, but you also minimize the risk of completely not succeeding or having stuff expiring. So be ready to risk some, but risk smartly.
Entering North America also requires planning- both for the worst (goods not moving fast enough, which will incur more storage fees and also hurt product ranking) and the best—goods moving very fast, where your goal is to never run out of stock.
Nikola RudicFounder of Supreme Grubs, Amazon Seller in the US and Singapore
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6. What tips do you have to get more customer reviews and provide a delightful customer experience?
Selling more, even if it means lower return on ad spend for some time. More purchases lead to more review requests, which ultimately lead to more reviews. My advice would be to go heavier on ads
, especially in the beginning, in order to get more reviews, faster. I used Sponsored Products ads on Amazon
. This was helpful, for example, I received 7–8x more orders as compared to usual during the last Prime Day. I was not ready for such a spike and my ads ran out of budget, but I still managed to get quite a fair bit of new-to-brand customers, which was the main objective. Of course, tools like Helium10 for automated and customised follow-up are a must, but if there’re not enough sales, even the most sophisticated tools won’t suffice. Additionally, I would recommend getting Brand Registry
benefits. The most important thing is finding a name that can be trademarked; if one is serious about growing a brand, trademarking
it is a must. Once one has applied for a trademark (in our case, via USPTO), there’s no reason to wait and not apply for Brand Registry benefits on Amazon.
Why should you register your trademark?
Brand owners are recommended to file a trademark in countries they operate to protect their brands globally. Enrolling in the Amazon Brand Registry
unlocks a suite of tools available only to brand owners, from a dedicated Brand Store, to advertising tools and brand-owner exclusive benefits. Amazon provides brand owners using IP Accelerator with access to brand protections and brand building features in Amazon’s stores before their trademark registration officially issues (e.g. at pending trademark stage).
7. What are your tips for product selection to new regions like North America?
If one does not have a product yet, it would help to make life easier and choose a product from a non-gated Amazon category (that does not require special compliance or approvals), a product that is small in size and not too heavy but also sturdy enough so it won't get damaged, a product that does not need approvals from other agencies (like FDA or others) and one without an expiry date. Now if there's a product that hits all this criteria and matches one's personal interests, that's potentially agood product choice. I did not hit all these criteria but it's still possible to do well although it might require just a bit more effort.
8. Can you elaborate more on what your biggest concerns for the present/future are, and how Supreme Grubs is helping to tackle some of those problems?
One of the things we’re overtly addressing in this stage is the problem of food waste. It’s a waste of resources, so we’re upcycling the food waste, and reducing the emission of bad methane gas that comes with its decomposition, to create a new protein. We all now know how much protein is needed nowadays, not just by humans, but for feed as well. We’re also replacing some not-so-sustainable sources of feed. If you watched the documentary Seaspiracy on Netflix, it really shows how it doesn’t make sense to feed fish to fish. We’re actually able to replace a lot of that fish meal with BSF. Soy beans are another protein source that’s often used in feeds that can be replaced by BSF. BSF, specifically out of all insects, also has huge amounts of chitosan, so that’s something that can be extracted in the future.
Supreme Grubs helps to eliminate food waste by using it as feed for black soldier fly larvae. Female black soldier flies can lay 500–800 eggs in their lifetime, which hatch within 4 days and can develop to larvae within 3 weeks.
9. Are there more possibilities of introducing black soldier flies/other insects into our regular diet (and what do you think is the reality/possibility of doing so)?
I mean, it’s an insect and everyone feels grossed out—even me, at the beginning. It just takes time to get used to it, like how we came to eat liver and kidneys. If you’re talking about introducing it to humans, then most likely we’re not talking about introducing it in its current form, which is the whole dried larvae. We need to think about how to give it to humans first so that they know what it is, but they don’t see it. Then the next step is to give them the entire piece. It’s a good protein alternative but we need more research and to understand what to feed them so that they’re okay for humans. It’s also likely that people who have shellfish allergies are going to be allergic to BSFL too. But of course, when I started I was also thinking “Can humans eat it?”
10. How has the pandemic affected your business?
One positive behavioral shift that the pandemic brought us is the increased attention to and sometimes actions toward a greater sustainability of our practices. In our case, the drive for self-sufficiency and organic foods, led to an increase in the number of people who keep chickens as pets, usually for their eggs. This in turn led to an increasing demand for our product.
Singapore-based seller Nikola Rudic now sells his black soldier flies on both Amazon.com and Amazon.sg to a global community of chicken-owners and pet lovers
11. What’s next for Supreme Grubs?
I am looking to do a small brand refresh and go after the US retail market (via offline pet specialty distributors). We’re also selling in Singapore now—it’s a pilot program, just to see how big the market is and to get visibility. I was quite surprised at the response so far—there’s this Facebook group called Backyard Chickens Singapore and they’ve grown from 500 to thousands of members. And even though Supreme Grubs is targeted at chickens, it’s also used by bird keepers, and there are quite a lot more people who keep birds or quail as opposed to chickens.
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