Insect meal is emerging as a new natural and sustainable ingredient to support the growth of sustainable aquaculture

by Maye Walraven, Head of Business Development, Innovafeed, France


Over the past decades, the aquaculture industry has seen many innovations and major technological changes. In particular, on the feed side, where feed-formulators are in constant search of new ingredients and are continuously optimising feed formulas for better performance and improved sustainability.

This has led to many positives impacts, such as a significant decrease in the pressure on wild fish stocks by reducing the content of marine resources in the diet of carnivorous fish and replacing them by plant-based protein. Yet, with aquaculture continuing to experience double-digit growth and the shrinking of marine resources, feed formulators have continued to look for new alternative ingredients.

Recently, the F3 conference in San Francisco reunited all the players in the aquaculture industry to discuss new alternative ingredients. Insect meal is emerging as a promising solution: it provides a sustainable source of protein, which is part of a wild fish's natural diet. In 2017, after several years of studying the proposal, the European Commission amended its regulation and authorised the inclusion of insect meal in aquaculture feed.

Innovafeed, which has established itself as a leader in insect meal production for aquaculture, explains why they view 2019 as a turning point and how they plan to make insect meal a competitive alternative. Maye Walraven, their Head of Business Development, comments, 'There's a strong interest in insect meal from scientists, investors, feed formulators to fish farmers. First movers to adopt insect meal view it as an opportunity to create value rather than a threat - there's a strong messaging for end-consumers on aquaculture's benefits to using a natural and sustainable ingredient'.

Laying the foundations to scale up industrial and commercial activity

After several years of research at its R&D facility, the change in EU legislation was the green light for the French-based biotech to launch its first industrial production plant in late 2017 near Cambrai, North of France. Over 2018, this pilot site has enabled InnovaFeed to validate the ability to scale-up its industrial model and to start commercialising its product, ProtiNova.

InnovaFeed only views it as the first step of their deployment to address the colossal needs of the aquaculture industry. 'Looking ahead,' continues Maye Walraven, 'we need to deliver on volumes, ensure the highest product quality, and create value for our partners.'

To meet the first of these objectives, InnovaFeed has announced the construction of its next factory that will significantly scale-up its production by the last quarter of 2019 and targets an annual production capacity of 50,000 tonnes of insect meal by 2025. Convinced of the sector's strong potential and InnovaFeed's executional capabilities, Creadev and Temasek (two large French and Singaporean investment funds) have chosen to back InnovaFeed in this scale-up effort.

InnovaFeed's next production unit will be located right next to a starch facility in Nesle, North of France, which is owned by Tereos, a leader in sugar, alcohol, and starch production. By partnering with Tereos, InnovaFeed secures quality 100 percent plant-based agricultural by-products as basic feed for breeding its insects, without generating any additional pressure on natural resources.

'As a matter of fact, the quality and stability of the feed is a key factor to ensure the quality of the insect meal,' explains Guillaume Gras, co-founder of InnovaFeed and Head of Product Development. Furthermore, by integrating their industrial processes, such as sharing the utilities that have already been installed on the industrial platform, the two companies are contributing to minimising the impact on climate change.

The operation of this unit will specifically enable the avoidance of 25,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. Over the next four years, the company plans to deploy this model and construct four additional new production plants in Europe, as well as in the United States.

The ambition: Establish insect production as a key segment of tomorrow's agro-industrial landscape

Of course, the industrial challenge is only one part of the story. Along with the engineering challenges, also came various R&D and legislative barriers to overcome before InnovaFeed could start selling their insect meal. Indeed, the company had to obtain all the permits and certifications to ensure the safety and total traceability of its entire supply chain – constraints which apply to all ingredients entering in the human food chain.

Furthermore, InnovaFeed had to run many trials, both in their R&D facilities and at commercial farms, to demonstrate the performance of its insect meal.

'On top of demonstrating that our product meets the nutritional requirements of the fish, we also wanted to prove that it has a positive impact of the quality of the fish for the end consumer' says Guillaume Gras.

These efforts paid off: in late 2018, InnovaFeed was the first in the world to launch insect-fed fish in French stores, thanks to a unique collaboration with the French Retailer, Auchan.

'This achievement is the result of the strong engagement of all actors of the value chain, who worked together over the past two years to integrate insect protein in fish feed and guarantee optimal quality for customers' shares Guillaume Gras.

'We worked hand in hand with the fish feed manufacturers, the fish farmers, and Auchan France to enable the success of this pioneering initiative'.

Available from the fish stalls, the 'insect fed' trout is now distributed in 52 Auchan stores in the North of France region, a stepping stone before extending the initiative nationwide by the end of 2019.

Looking ahead, InnovaFeed plans to continue collaborating with all actors in the value chain and across the world, just as it has done with Auchan Retail France, to co-construct a more sustainable food system that meets the growing needs of the sector and ensure the consumption of quality fish accessible for all.

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