Some of John Cockburn's earliest memories are of bread, and it's no surprise: baking has been in his family for three generations.
"I started when I was 6 or 7 with my father, Bob, on Sunday mornings at 3 AM for 25c per hour," he told SupermarketNews. "Then I added after-school cleaning work a few days per week for pocket money." Though he briefly harboured typical childhood ambitions to become a policeman or Formula One driver, it was learning that businessman and philanthropist Sir Patrick Goodman owned a private jet that convinced him to stick with the family business. "I thought that sounded pretty neat."
John's early-instilled work ethic stuck with him. Throughout his studies at Rathkeale College John would get up early to work on the bread slicers, from 5 AM to 8 AM, Monday to Friday. "Adding that to the Sunday morning early start gave me 20-odd hours per week," a sizeable work week for a full-time student.
John went on to study for a year at Wairarapa College, where he made the grade for the 1st XV's tour of Australia. He then continued his studies part-time, completing NZIM management papers whilst working at North's Bakery in Tawa, under the supervision of Stuart North, a man John says he has "always looked up to, for his amazing determination and drive."
After a stint at Quality Bakers Wellington, where he gained vital experience with then-new technology, John returned to the family business and hasn't stopped since. He has bought the business out of family ownership, and in 2017 Breadcraft celebrated its 75th anniversary. "The quality of the people we have had the pleasure to work with all these years has been an absolute privilege."
Back in March, Breadcraft launched Rebel Bakehouse, a health-oriented range of wraps and other baked goods designed to appeal to a younger, more eco-conscious generation. One such product that has garnered much attention is the Cricket Flour Wrap, made with sustainably sourced insect flour. It might sound like a novelty, but John is convinced it has (six) legs. "It really is simply a matter of replacing some white flour with the desired percentage of cricket flour and we’ve found no issues whatsoever with manufacturing." The Cricket Wrap is part of a range which includes hemp, purple corn, and spinach variants.
As awareness spreads of the alleged environmental impact of animal-based foods like meat and dairy, using insects as food offers a potential middle ground between the anti- and pro-meat lobbies. And it has plenty in its favour. "Where insect farming has the advantage is the ability to farm vertically, so the space required to gain a kilo of protein is significantly less than animal-based or plant-based options," John told us. "Over time, I believe we will see insect protein become part of our protein intake."
Looking ahead, John hopes to shift Rebel Bakehouse's cricket supply from international to local. "We are currently importing Cricket flour from North America," he said, "but our pilot facility in New Zealand is producing high-quality cricket flour that has tested as good as any other in the world, and expansion plans are ready to roll out when the market wants more."
Just when that time will come, who can say? But John is confident that it will. "Insect consumption is nothing new. 2 billion people worldwide consume insects daily as part of their normal diet. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ insect farming is an option, but of how quickly it will become mainstream here in New Zealand."