French startup Ÿnsect is so confident that insects can revolutionize the global food chain that they are building the world’s largest bug farm in France. The company just added an additional $224 million in funding that for the first time attracted U.S. backers, including Los Angeles-based Upfront Ventures and the Robert Downey Jr. financed FootPrint Coalition. Ÿnsect has now raised a total of $425 million that it will use to complete its new facility in Amiens, France, which will be the largest insect farm in the world when it begins operations in 2022. The company aims to produce 100,000 tons of insect products a year, some of which they hope will find its way into animal feed and fertilizers here in the U.S.
Insect farming has long been touted as a solution to feeding a more populous world through sustainable methods. Edible insects for animal feed products can have a market similar to fishmeal and soymeal, which are used as the main ingredients in feed formulas for livestock feed and aquafeed. Ÿnsect’s whole process is designed to generate zero waste, meaning everything which is produced is sold, something that is strongly resonating with investors right now.
Ÿnsect’s products start with a patented process for cultivating mealworm into a high-protein powder that goes into fish feed and some specialty pet foods. Meanwhile, the mealworms are fed with agricultural waste collected from local area farms while the manure from the worms is turned into fertilizer. The mealworms are grown in vertical farming warehouses that are fully automated, which helps bring down some of the high-costs associated with scaling production. The company has actually patented more than 20 of the technologies it uses in its manufacturing process, something co-founder and CEO Antoine Hubert feels gives Ÿnsect an edge.
Hubert has a background in agronomy where he focused on the link between insects and earthworms to soil health. From its start as just a small research lab in 2011, Ÿnsect says it has now inked $105 million worth of contracts to supply feed and fertilizer. That’s barely a drop in the bucket compared to the total estimated insect protein market, which analysts at Barclays peg at roughly $8 billion by 2030, up from less than $1 billion today.
Ÿnsect’s products are meant to replace traditional forms of protein, such as fish and grains. About 22 million tons of fish caught in the wild were used for fish meal in 2018, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO. Around 70% of that was used to feed farmed fish. Ÿnsect says one ton of its mealworm protein is equivalent to around five tons of wild fish.
Ÿnsect also sees itself reducing the role of row crops in animal agriculture, of which at least one-third are devoted to manufacturing animal feed, a $500-billion-a year industry. Producers say that breeding larvae require less water and land than growing soybeans, and no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Producers of another popular insect protein derived from soldier flies say 100 square meters of its insect farms can produce the equivalent amount of protein as 100 hectares of soybean. Ÿnsect and other such companies also aim to supplant some traditional chemical fertilizers with their insect waste formulas. Learn more about Ÿnsect’s products HERE.
There are dozens of companies working on making animal feed from insect proteins but as with most aspects of our complicated food supply chain, insects face a lot of regulatory hurdles. Europe has cleared Ÿnsect’s products for fish feed and is now working toward approval for poultry and livestock, and eventually humans. The company’s ŸnFrass fertilizer has been approved for organic use in France. In the U.S., Hubert says he’s spent almost two years working on approval for pet food and believes they are close. Currently, black soldier fly larvae is the only insect protein approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as feed for salmonid fish, poultry, and pigs. Ÿnsect says it is also looking to open a U.S. plant, something Hubert expects will be a joint project with a big ag company. He says they are already in private discussions with several. (Sources: Forbes, Rethink, Financial Times, Feed Navigator)