Ÿnsect, alternative protein and the road to sustainability
By Matus Maar, Managing Partner, & Beatrice Aliprandi, Senior Analyst, at Talis Capital.
Alongside climate change, water scarcity, urban and oceanic pollution, the issue of how to sustainably feed a global population - predicted to surge by two billion people by 2050 - is one of the great existential problems of our age. With the demand for protein set to rise inexorably, and the worldwide search for alternative protein sources for feed and fertilizers intensifying as a result, something has to give in a global food system which is already over-stretched and plagued by waste and inefficiencies.
It’s not often as investors that we encounter entrepreneurs grappling with societal problems of this magnitude. However, our introduction, by impact investor Eric Archambeau, to Antoine Hubert, the CEO and co-founder of Ÿnsect was one such instance. Ÿnsect is a pioneering ag-tech company which specializes in breeding insects and transforming them into premium ingredients for fish feed, pet food and organic plant fertilizers. Based in Paris, the company draws on proprietary technology - protected by 25 patents - to develop "farm-hills" (Fermilières®), which are low-footprint vertical farms used for Molitor or mealworm breeding.
On a tour of Ÿnsect’s first factory last summer, the company’s vision and ambition was plain to see – this is a team entirely focused on making a meaningful difference not only to the way food is produced worldwide, but also in the creation of a sustainable food system. In particular there were four factors which led us to join Ÿnsect’s $125m (€110m) Series C round, which is announced today.
First is the fish protein market itself. Around half of the fish we eat today is farmed. But fishmeal, the primary food source for farmed fish, comes from dwindling ocean fish stocks under severe duress due to decades of overfishing – with one study even projecting that global fish stocks will collapse by the midpoint of the century. Reducing reliance on fishmeal, is therefore a crucial component of Ÿnsect’s mission. And it’s a huge market; the animal feed market, as a whole, is estimated to be worth $500bn globally, and it’s growing.
As part of their natural diet wild fish and crustaceans eat insects -- an important source of high quality protein and polyunsaturated fats. But while Ÿnsect’s competitors chose to farm other species, Antoine and his team picked the Molitor, which are small, common beetles known as mealworms.
In their research, they found that Molitor/mealworm protein outperforms every other variety of insect for fish or animal feed. Due to the fact that Molitor larvae can be grown in the dark and consume very little water, the production process itself is both energy efficient and highly scalable. There’s very little water waste and because the ultimate product is 72% protein, it is proven to be highly effective as fish feed or for pet nutrition.
‘Proven health benefits’
The Molitor has been shown to be the only insect so far that can be raised at mass-scale and can also deliver Ÿnsect’s unique products: in particular, ŸnMeal, extracted from Molitor larvae, which offers sustainable, premium nutrition for animals, with superior and proven nutritional performance and health benefits for – among others -- shrimp, salmon, trout, and sea-bass.
Ÿnsect’s next major differentiator is their proprietary and patented technology. Many companies talk a good game by using words like AI, machine learning and robotics, when often their connection to those technologies is tenuous at best. By contrast, Ÿnsect’s 3,000 square metre vertical farm uses end-to-end automation and is highly efficient. Robotic arms, for example, shift the larvae from one area to the next, while machine learning underpins the entire production process, including gauging the larvae’s levels of maturity to know when they are ready to be moved. Human involvement is largely confined to oversight and quality control.
All of those factors combined – from the size of the market opportunity, to the unique product itself and Ÿnsect’s patented technology, the experience of the founding team in their respective fields and the urgency of the problem they’re addressing – give us deep conviction that Antoine and his team could be the global winners in this space.
And this is just the start. While there’s a huge opportunity in acquaculture from a sustainability standpoint, an even bigger market awaits the company: namely, cattle and livestock. One of the world’s most inefficient, wasteful and polluting sectors, intensive pastoral farming is still mired in questionable practices, particularly around animal feed.
That’s for another day, of course. But in the meantime, as concerns grow about the sustainability and impact of the food we eat – and with the entire journey from farm to fork under unprecedented scrutiny – it’s clear to us that alternative protein of the variety that Ÿnsect has mastered, will prove transformative. Not just for animal and plant feed – but the future of our planet itself.