Anteater is a Christchurch-based startup that offers locally grown skyprawns (locusts), lemongrass ants, and huhu grubs for sale, alongside imported Canadian cricket powder.
Yes, edible insects are a thing, an increasingly big thing. According to Global Market Insights the market for edible insects is set to grow to over half a billion US dollars by 2023. And clean, green NZ could become a premium supplier of edible insect products, if Anteater have any say in the matter.
In a world where livestock contribution to CO2 emissions and global warming is a serious issue, it makes sense to look at other sources of sustainable food. Farming insects can produce up to an order of magnitude more protein per unit land area, with a much lower environmental impact than farming cattle or sheep. Anteater's mission is to “accelerate the advent of sustainable agriculture”.
Insects are all the rage in high-end restaurants. Regular customers include Roots, Vault 21, Antoine's, Pescatore, and Kazuya as well as the nationwide Mexico chain. The ants are used as a garnish, and provide an intense burst of flavour. In a strange reversal, New Zealand ants taste like lemongrass, and Thai ants taste like Marmite. Locusts are similar in texture and flavour to freshwater prawns, hence the moniker “skyprawns”.
Cofounders Peter Randrup and Rebecca De Prospo met at Startup Weekend Christchurch in April this year, where they worked on a startup to farm insects. They didn't win any prizes, but they did validate the basic business concept. True to lean form, they pivoted on the Monday after the weekend to becoming a niche wholesaler rather than farmers, as they saw that this is where the value is.
Peter says that their initial pitch to Giulio Sturla, the owner and head chef at Roots Restaurant, was for cricket powder. Giulio wasn't interested, but asked if they could source some local ants. Giulio asked, “I need 100g of ants by Tuesday – can you do it?” Peter thought “Oh sh!t”, but answered “Of course we can”, not realising just how many ants that is – around 300,000. He spent the next four days figuring out how to separate ants from dirt, but got there in the end. That's the startup spirit! Giulio is now a regular customer.
Anteater were recently Grand Winner in Canterbury University's Entre 85k Challenge, scooping up $22,000 worth of prizes.
As this post is published, Peter and Bex are in Thailand doing research into how commercial insect farming operations work there, and researching possibilities for trading insects between New Zealand and Asia. They hope to have a retail-ready meat substitute product on the market in the near future. Peter explains: “If you swap out one meal of conventional protein for insect protein per week, you'd be freeing up 100-150m2 of land. Every year you'd save your body weight in CO2 emissions, and tonnes of “blue water” – fresh water fed to meat animals.
What's not to love? Give the product a go at any of the restaurants listed above, and keep your feelers out for insect-based meat substitute at a fine food retailer near you. Peter and Bex will be presenting at Ministry of Awesome's Coffee and Jam in Christchurch at EPIC on Tuesday 8 November at 12:30pm.
And if you're keen to meet amazing people like Peter and Bex, bowl up to a Startup Weekend. Startup Weekend Auckland takes place 18-20 November at Massey University in Albany, and Startup Weekend Environment takes place 25-27 November at Massey University in Wellington. More Startup Weekends are also planned next year around the country.