BO TALO, Thailand — The economy of this frog-farming village nearly croaked when the price of its plump product slumped on the international market. But Bo Talo may take a leap back from financial ruin with an innovative product: frog-in-a-can.
People in the central Thailand village have long raised muddy brown-colored, bumpy-skinned frogs for export to places like Taiwan, where frog legs and frog soup are favorites. But in 2000, the price of live frogs fell. So the people of Bo Talo invested $15,200 and started producing canned, ready-to-eat frog meat -- under the Big Frog brand.
"Our product's been well received because no one's ever done it before, so it's quite strange," said Yupa Sangnet, who came up with the idea and heads the group of villagers working on the project. "If you're the kind of person who doesn't like your frog fresh, you can have it in a can."
The frogs are raised in large cement pools, slaughtered and cleaned, then deep-fried and tossed with two different sauces: spicy chili or sweet and sour. The chopped-up meat can be eaten with rice or as a snack with beer, much as fresh-cooked frog is consumed by Thais.
It's still a small-scale operation for the village of about 100 families, with just 15 workers. They produce about 1,000 cans a day, paste on blue labels with a yellow cartoon frog licking its lips, and sell each can for about 65 cents.
Things are looking good -- all cans were snapped up at the launch here in December, and a Thai businessman in the United States is talking about an export deal. Bo Talo also escaped the tsunamis that devastated coastal areas of Thailand and other Asian nations.
So how do the frog farmers persuade the public to buy?
It helps that Thais enjoy a wide variety of foods considered exotic by Westerners. No city, town or village is complete without its fried insect vendor. Even in Bangkok, a bag of crickets, water bugs or larvae goes down like a treat.
Big Frog is also pushing its wholesomeness, at a time when Thailand's chicken and duck industries are fighting the blight of bird flu.
"No offense to those other producers, but our food's completely organic, and it's high in calcium and low in cholesterol," Yupa said. "We've done our research on its nutritional value. Our food's not just any food. It's healthy food too."