Ant control commercial restaurant

Ants: coming to a restaurant near you

A pair of Canterbury entrepreneurs are putting ants on the menu at restaurants around the country. 

We spend much of summer trying to keep ants out of our food; yet they might be what's missing from it, say a pair of young Kiwi entrepreneurs.

With their start-up company Anteater, Canterbury University students Peter Randrup and Bex De Prospo are trying to drive in New Zealand what's become an emerging industry in Western countries, called "entomophagy", or insect consumption.

Anteater, a University of Canterbury Centre for Entrepreneurship (UCE) student company that just scooped the university's 85K Challenge, is now working with high-end food producers to make dishes from insects to be served in restaurants throughout the country.

Their product range offers wild ants and huhu grubs, harvested in Canterbury, locusts farmed in Otago and cricket powder imported from Canada.

"We view this as a first step toward mainstreaming these products as a viable, sustainable alternative to factory-farmed meat," said Randrup, an insect biology student searching for more efficient, sustainable ways to produce high-quality protein sources.

"My favourite statistic is that if you swapped out just one serving of conventional protein for insect protein once a week, over the course of a year you would free up 100 to 150 square metres of land somewhere on the planet."

Randrup, a vegetarian, got the idea after reading an article about entomophagy and then pitched the idea at an entrepreneurial event at the university in April.

His now-business partner, De Prospo, initially reacted: "Bugs, really?"

But, seeing the potential, jumped on board and helped grow the business, also losing her taste for meat in the process.

She's now focused on finding out how to best use the business model to help feed people around the world, and hopes to adapt existing insect-farming models to produce kitset farms which can be sent to residents of impoverished regions.

"The statistics on how much grain is produced to feed livestock, while the human population in many of these places are left starving, are absolutely staggering."

People with a taste for bugs can find their offerings at Roots Restaurant in Lyttelton, Vault 21 in Dunedin, Antoine's Restaurant in Auckland and Mexico restaurants in Britomart, Takapuna, Ponsonby, Ellerslie, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.

Meanwhile, the Government has announced $3 million will be poured into two programmes sitting within the "High-Value Nutrition" National Science Challenge.

"The research into high-value nutrition is hugely important in moving our food production from volume to value," Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce said.

"These projects will help product development that brings maximum returns for New Zealand food exporters."

The "Consumer Insights" research programme has received up to $1.5 million has been allocated to research the science of consumers, with a focus on health and wellness needs of Asian consumers.

Joyce said it would explore what was needed to establish a habitual consumption of high-value nutritional foods, something vital in ensuring investment was directed in areas that will resonate most with consumers.

The completed first phase of this work studied the information currently available to New Zealand businesses, and their knowledge gaps in understanding consumers' needs and behaviours.

The programme, led by Plant and Food Research's Dr Roger Harker, would ultimately provide direction to clinical research supporting the development of high-value foods and beverages for the Asian market.

The other programme, dubbed the "Science of Food", would receive $1.5 million to address the technological challenges in protecting the health promoting compounds in food during the journey from raw ingredients to finished food products, through to digestion.

A team, led by Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh of Massey University's Riddet Institute, would design ingredients and processes that kept the compounds in top condition within food products, so that when eaten, they were released to the body at the right stage of digestion needed to deliver their identified health benefits.

 by Jamie Morton