If you were asked to name a classic Kiwi meal – what would come to mind? Would it be meat and three veg? A steaming hot Sunday roast? Or would it be the Friday night steak and chips with a side of tap beer – you can’t get more Kiwi than that.
Eating meat has become part of the Kiwi culture and most people would rather die from over consumption than dream of giving it up; unfortunately, the rate at which we are eating meat is not sustainable.
Thankfully a pair of young entrepreneurs believe they have come up with a solution that could perseude even the staunchest Kiwi bloke to give up the steak.
It all began in May 2016 at Startup Weekend in Christchurch.
Bex De Prospo, a student at Ara Institute of Canterbury at the time, met Peter Randrup, a marine biologist and manager of a small aquaculture business, who pitched the idea of edible insects in New Zealand after noticing the growing trend overseas.
Without the right education the thought of eating insects would make most stomachs turn, so a little bit of skepticism is understandable, however, we Kiwis are a bit behind the eight ball as already 80 percent of the world’s cultures have bugs as part of their normal diet.
Peter says he pitched the idea at Startup Weekend thinking nothing would come of it, but by the end of the weekend he had found a business partner in Bex and, what became Anteater, gained its first customer.
“Our first customer was actually the number one restaurant in New Zealand, Roots restaurant in Lyttelton,” Peter says.
A good confirmation that they were on to something worthwhile.
Since then Anteater has continued to snowball.
Changing the mindset
Change is hard to accept for a lot of people so why on earth would one consider swapping a beef burger for a bug burger? Put simply insects are incredibly good for you and they’re sustainable.
In the perfect world that would be enough to convince the population, but both Bex and Peter knew when they started Anteater it was going to take more than that to change people’s minds.
Bex explains to make this idea mainstream they aren’t working their way from the bottom up, they began at the top and plan on working their way down.
“There’s a growing global industry behind edible insects, particularly in North America, and in parts of Europe it’s really gained momentum over the last six years. The cornerstone of what they’re doing in those markets is effectively supplement products on retail shelves, they’re additives to add protein to foods, but they’re not interesting enough products for the kind of clients we are targeting.”
For Bex and Peter targeting different clients has played a huge part in getting over that mainstream hurdle.
“If we can get top chefs at high-end restaurants to serve you these products you’re going to enjoy them, rather than just putting them on the shelves and expecting you to know what to do with them,” Bex says.
The goal is to make people comfortable with the products on offer, so by only working with the best chefs they can be certain that the first experience people in New Zealand have with their edible insects, will be a good one.
When it comes to Anteater, Bex and Peter are the epitome of excitement and are one hell of a team.
“There’s been a huge sort of serendipity aspect behind the launching of this business. I nearly didn’t go to Startup Weekend,” Bex says.
“My friend was selling a ticket at the last minute and I thought it was something that I should probably attend, and I almost didn’t join Peter’s team because as a group they seemed very over the top,” she laughs.
“Peter and I realised within the context of one conversation, there was something about our working energy that was going to be really productive. So when Startup Weekend ended there was no question we would carry on with it. If anyone was going to make a go of it, it was going to be us.”
Anyone starting a business will know that you need to work with people who have the same values as you, and ideally have different skillsets, and Bex and Peter have found that in each other.
“It’s amazing how often Bex will say ‘you’re going to have to do this, I hate it’ and I’ll be like ‘really? That’s my jam’ I’m good at that and the reverse is true,” Peter says.
Peter is in charge of the science production and sales part of the business and Bex sticks to logistics operations, marketing and administration.
“We are at completely different ends of the business, but we stay in constant communication,” Bex says.
They both agree how uncanny it is that they managed to find each other and wholeheartedly believe that together they could run any business, no matter how absurd it may be.
Currently Anteater’s ‘bread and butter’ is ants.
Although to most they seem tiny and insignificant, Bex and Peter believe that they will remain at the forefront of their business.
“There’s this massive thing about ants being used in restaurants all around the world,” Peter says.
“There’s 40 species of ants in NZ; I didn’t know that initially. Turns out there’s a massive range of flavours depending on the species, so I had to go out and find a very particular species of ants with a lemon grass flavour, which thankfully I managed to find.”
Bex says ants were the first, and will remain the core product.
“For our particular customers, that product is by far the most interesting. It’s a fairly approachable ingredient for high-end dishes and it looks more refined as opposed to other insects.”
For such a small insect they sure pack a punch and as little as four or five ants as a seasoning on your meal is enough for a flavor explosion.
The ants are used in a similar way to herbs, the chef will bruise them and sprinkle them on the dish at the last minute.
Anteater’s products have featured in four of the top nine restaurants in New Zealand and at many high-profile events, such as TEDx Christchurch and Te Papa’s Bug Lab Exhibition, and it’s no surprise considering the products’ nutritional benefits.
Insects have more protein than steak, more omega fatty-acids than salmon and more calcium than milk – they also require a lot less space and maintenance than beef.
In the United States, since 2010, the edible bug industry has been doubling every year and Anteater hopes to achieve the same growth here.
“Imagine a burger or a patty that tastes better than red meat, is better for you and for the environment – and imagine it being cheaper as well,” Peter says.
Although there may be some initial hesitance, hands-down, people will opt for the better tasting, healthier, cheaper option.
It’s the sort of sustainable innovation that our food industry needs and by 2050, when posed with the question to name a classic Kiwi meal, maybe insect burgers will be the dish that comes to mind.
By Natalia Rietveld