After tasting his first locust, Dunedin man Malcolm Diack knew he had a winning business idea.
Doors are opening for the 40-year-old locust farmer since his business, Otago Locusts, beat six other finalists to win the novel food category at the New Zealand Food Awards in Auckland last month.
“The awards changed things a lot – it gave me recognition and now people know there is a crazy guy in Dunedin farming insects and trying to get people to eat them.”
The category was sponsored by FoodBowl, a facility in Auckland with science and technology resources to support the growth of food and beverage businesses.
At the facility, companies produce commercial runs of new products for trial marketing and to capitalise on domestic and export opportunities.
As a category prize, FoodBowl gave $10,000 of commercial runs to Otago Locusts.
One market identified was grinding the locusts to a powder for use as a protein supplement for bodybuilders.
The Dunedin-born and raised man started down the path towards locust breeding in Dunedin when he started breeding pet frogs in 2009.
To feed the frogs, he bought locusts to breed, and sold any surplus insects.
After reading a newspaper article in 2011 about Israelis eating locusts for protein, he ate a live locust.
“It tasted really good.”
He then pitched his locusts as an ingredient to Vault 21 executive chef Greg Piner.
Mr Piner cooked the insects and served them to staff, sparking positive feedback.
“That was hugely encouraging – a big moment – seeing people with no connection to me eating my insects and saying they’re delicious.”
He sold his locusts to several restaurants across New Zealand, including Glenfalloch Restaurant in Macandrew Bay and Bigfoot Bar and Restaurant in Fox Glacier.
Some of the most “spectacular and tasty” locusts he had eaten were covered in two types of chocolate and sprinkled with raspberry salt.
The business plan was to sell locusts to more restaurants.
“Now I have an award-winning product, it’s a bit easier to pitch and they taste good if you cook them right.”
More than 10,000 of his locusts were sold for human consumption last year.
As more eateries were buying his “sky prawns”, he had enlarged his farm at Lookout Point. The farm began in a 1.5m by 3m shed on his property but he added another shed about twice the size.
The farm expansion had continued and two insulated shipping containers arrived this month.
The farm filled about half a shipping container, so the business had capacity to produce 6000 live locusts a week.
A large locust took 30 days to grow and sold for about $1, he said.
The Ministry of Primary Industries was satisfied with the biosecurity risk the farm posed because locusts died in the cold temperatures of Dunedin.
Local gardeners fearing a swarm of locusts descending on their gardens need not worry – Mr Diack said locusts only functioned in temperatures warmer than 20degC and the shipping containers were heated to about 30degC.
He said the farm was making money, but not enough for him to stop work as a self-employed window cleaner.
“I’m hoping in the not-too-distant future the farm will take over and I can stop cleaning windows.”