[Editors' Choice Winner: Food and Beverage]

From vegans to paleo eaters to parents of growing kids to just plain folk, everyone wants to know: How can I get more protein? Unfortunately, this insatiable demand bumps up against some unpleasant realities. Despite the welcome rise in plant-based proteins, the vast majority of Western protein consumption persists as meat—a resource-greedy source. Plant proteins, while less problematic, contend with different hurdles, such as GMOs (soy) and sourcing issues (quinoa).

Into this omnivore’s dilemma steps Chapul, the first finished consumer product made with insect protein. These delicious energy bars, which launched via Kickstarter two years ago and won a $50,000 deal on Shark Tank in March 2014, are the brainchild of Pat Crowley, a self-proclaimed “reluctant entrepreneur” who started eating bugs as a water conservation mission.

According to Crowley, it takes 100 gallons of water to produce 6 grams of beef protein; the same amount of water produces 63 grams soy protein and 71 grams cricket protein. Likewise, 2 pounds of feed yields 1 pound of insect meat; cattle require 8 pounds feed for 1 pound meat. “The math is simple,” writes Crowley. “If we shift even a small fraction of our protein consumption to environmentally friendly, healthy (and tasty!) insects, we can reduce the huge amount of water which irrigates the massive, mechanized farms that exist solely to feed cattle and pigs.”

Despite the perceived “ick” factor, we believe insect protein is on the cusp of greatness. Two billion people worldwide already eat insects, and a 2013 report by the U.N.’s agricultural arm details bugs’ health and environmental benefits, from solid nutrition to fewer greenhouse gases and livelihood opportunities for impoverished communities.

With Chapul, Crowley plans to make insect foods the next sushi, which evolved from “who would ever eat raw fish?” to a sought-after delicacy and now grocery-store staple. Even better, changing people’s minds about insects as a revolutionary protein source potentially translates into feeding the world’s soon-to-be 9 billion inhabitants while simultaneously preserving one of the planet’s most precious resources.

Of course, none of this goodwill hunting would matter if the bars didn’t taste good—but they do. Chapul currently offers three tasty flavor combos: chocolate, coffee, and cayenne; chocolate and peanut butter; and coconut-ginger-lime. Crowley is also experimenting with other flavors and insects (after all, people around the world already eat 2,000 different bug species) and he’s considering marketing Chapul’s FDA-approved cricket flour for other finished products. As Chapul’s presence expands day by day (currently available in 200 stores) and consumer attention and appreciation continues to mount, we’re saying it: This concept has legs.

Learn more at chapul.com, or follow Chapul on Twitter: @eatinsects

Every year at Natural Products Expo West, editors and trend researchers from New Hope Natural Media and Sterling-Rice Group scour the show floor to find the products and brands they predict will shape the future of the natural products industry. The best of the best receive NEXTY nominations, which recognize the companies that embody not only the most innovative edge of the natural products industry, but also its deeply held social and environmental values. www.nextknows.com