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Raising Mealworms for Profit

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An Easy and Simple Way for Adults or Children to Make Extra Cash

Mealworms are a worm-like type of larvae used in fishing, wild bird feeders, and as food for pet reptiles, birds, and fish.  They are primarily sold in pet stores and bait & tackle shops.  They are supplied in both live and preserved states.  Many buyers prefer the live worms as they do not contain preservatives and offer their pets a more realistic feeding experience.

Live mealworms are usually supplied in small plastic cups containing 24 to 36 worms per cup.  In addition to the worms, the cups usually contain enough food and bedding to keep the worms alive in the container for 2-3 weeks after purchasing.  Many people do not realize how easy it is to raise and maintain a permanent supply of live mealworms of their own.

Some people raise mealworms for their own use, but mealworms can also be raised as a small home-based business.

The first step in establishing a successful mealworm raising business is to determine the market in the region and find potential clients.  There are many fishing tackle shops that would like to offer mealworms to their customers, but do not have a reliable local source.  Most people also have contacts with pet birds, fish, or reptiles who would be interested in fresh live mealworms for their pets.  Bird sanctuaries, wildlife rehabilitation centers, nature centers, and aquariums are potential mealworm customers as well.

After establishing interest in the region, the next step is the actual growing of the worms.  The worms will need to be raised in an environment at room temperature.  Most are grown in plastic bins or drawers, with the top open for air circulation.  These plastic drawers can be purchased at most general retail stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Dollar General, etc.  for around twelve dollars.  The larvae and beetles cannot climb the smooth walls of the plastic bins, so they cannot escape.  The preferred bedding and food source for meal worms is wheat bran.  Animal grade wheat bran can be bought in large bags of around 40 pounds for as low as nine dollars per bag.  Forty pounds will last well over a year for the average mealworm colony.  A bran layer of one to two inches deep in the bin is ideal.  For a water source, sliced solid vegetables or fruits are placed flat on top of the wheat bran.  Potatoes are the standard, but apples, squash, cucumbers, etc. can all be used.  The worms and beetles suck the water out of the vegetables and eat the remaining tissue.  Once the bin is prepared with wheat bran and potato slices, a cup or two of mealworms are all that is missing.  As mentioned earlier, the mealworms can be purchased at either a pet store or fishing tackle store.  They usually cost about three dollars per cup of 24 to 36 worms.  Simply dump the worms in the bin and wait.

The mealworms are actually the larva form of the mealworm beetle.  The mealworm will stay in this form for two to three months.  It then turns into a white pupae and shortly emerges from this stage into a beetle.  In time, the beetles will lay eggs which will hatch into tiny mealworms.  Then the cycle repeats itself over and over again as long as they have the appropriate environment,  food, bedding, and water.

Once the population is established, buyers must be found.  I have found it is easier to sell the worms already cupped and ready to place on the potential customers shelf right.  That way the buyer can see the quality of the worms you supply.  Small three to four ounce translucent plastic portion cups and lids are perfect for packaging.  These portion cups can be found at most restaurant supply stores and on-line.  The cost depends on the amount purchased.  If purchasing a smaller amount like 100 at a time, they average about fourteen cents for the cup/lid combined.  If purchasing larger quantities, such as 1000, they may only cost five cents for the cup/lid combo.  The cups will need to be labeled "Mealworms 36 Count" or similar if selling to a store for retail.  If the store manager is unsure, give them a few free cups to test with their customers, just be sure to follow up the next week.  If selling to pet owners, rehab centers, etc., larger numbers can be packaged and sold as needed.  Another option is to sell to a live bait wholesaler.  The profit is less but there is less work in finding individual customers.

Below is a synopsis of the start up costs of a home-based mealworm business.

Plastic drawer/bin(Wal-Mart, Target, Dollar Store, etc.):  $12.00

Wheat bran 40 lb. bag(local farm feed and supply store):  $9.00

Shriveling old potato found in bottom of pantry:  free

Two cups of live meal worms(local pet store or fishing bait shop):  $6.00

Three ounce portion cups/100 count(Eco Products Store, etc.): $7.52 (plus shipping)

Three ounce portion cup lid/100 count(Eco Product Store, etc.):  $5.63 (Plus shipping)

Total start up costs:  $40.15

Now we know how much it will cost to start the mealworm business, but how much can one make?  Of course, this is extremely variable and depends on the local market, supply, demand, economy, reputation of supplier, etc.  Some regions support a retail price of $2.95 per 36 count cup, and wholesale price of $1.70 per 36 count cup.  Some suppliers sell to wholesalers at $1.00 per 36 count cup.

So how many cups need to be sold to break even?  If selling to a retailer(bait shop or pet store) for $1.70 per cup, one would break even after selling only 24 cups!  And repeat sales after that would perform even better, as overhead actually decreases after recuperating the startup costs.  The plastic drawer/bin will lasts for years and the worms should propagate generation after generation.  When these costs are subtracted, one only needs to sell 13 cups at $1.70 each to break even.  Buying portion cups and lids in bulk of 1000 at a time, would reduce the overhead even more!

Raising and selling mealworms might not make one a millionaire, but it is a low risk way to make a little extra cash.  It is also a great way to introduce children to the concepts of business because of its ease and simplicity.  A mealworm business can be used to teach children about start-up costs, overhead, inventory, marketing, customer relations, and return on investment in addition to providing some extra spending money.  For those who use mealworms, but are not interested in selling them, raising their own worms is an easy way to save a few dollars as well.

 

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