Entrepreneur fills niche with snail farming
Sandy McDonald of Green Bay laughs when she says her business startup is moving at a “snail’s pace.” That’s because her business is Cupid’s Arrow Escargot, and her niche will be raising snails.
“Why snails?” McDonald said. “The United States imports $300 million of escargot into the country every year and nearly all of it is grown and canned in Europe. When I saw this, I thought it would be a good business and started looking at regulations and doing research.”
What she learned is that snail farming presents a huge opportunity. There are only a few snail farms in the country, and there is a growing demand for the product due to its nutritional and medicinal attributes. Snails are used in everything from caviar to face cream.
McDonald, who has had a varied career including several years working for a commercial fisherman, says that she’s not afraid to work with her hands and get dirty. As a volunteer at The Farmory in Green Bay, she has been part of the “farm to table” movement and has learned how to grow livestock in a controlled environment.
“This is an opportunity to serve the community by growing our own food," she said. "Like others, I want to know where my food comes from, and make an imprint on our ecosystem.”
And, she thinks the snails fit the bill perfectly. She raves about the nutritional value and says they are a lean source of protein and high in vitamins and amino acids. In writing her business plan, she has talked to local chefs and been encouraged by their enthusiasm.
“You can stir fry them, sauté them, put them back in the shell and bake them. There are many recipes out there, and this would be something new for people in the area,” she said. “Once I have everything in place, I plan to visit restaurants because that will be about 75% of my business. The other 25% will be individuals who are health conscious and open to new sources of healthy protein.”
Until then, she is working with the Department of Agriculture so that the business will comply with the strict regulations. Because snails are considered an invasive species, they must be securely controlled. McDonald has looked at several locations and is in the process of picking one out.
“Snails don’t like to be dirty, and they don’t want to be cold,” she said. “They need the proper moisture. I want to raise them in a controlled environment in a curtain-type method.”
In addition to concerns about creating the proper environment, McDonald is also required to have a commercial kitchen because snails can’t be moved while alive because they could escape. She is hoping that the regulation might be modified to allow her to use an off-site kitchen while she gets the business going.
Once she has a location and the USDA has approved it, she will purchase stock from one of the other snail farms and plans to spend the first year building stock, learning, and getting the business to run efficiently. She has attended classes at EHub in Green Bay and is planning on working with a SCORE mentor. Ideally, she says she would like a partner to join in the venture.
As she continues to work toward her goal, her mission is to provide fresh, organic escargot farm to table to local chefs and restaurants throughout the Midwest region. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, she says that starting this business is natural.
“I think it’s in our DNA; running a business has been so much a part of our lives. I am a very independent person and I like challenges. I’ve talked to a lot of people and everyone has been very positive. This is a road never traveled here. This is ground-breaking,” she said.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.