8 Insect-based Pet Food and Animal Feed Startups
People love their pets. Consider that Americans alone spent an estimated $72 billion on their animals last year. While the headlines focus on startups like Rover, which has raised more than $300 million for its app-powered pet services, the biggest chunk of money goes toward food – about $30 billion in 2018. People also love their steak and seafood. The numbers are even more shocking there, especially when you consider that industrial grain-fed livestock could cost the global economy more than $1 trillion by 2050 given the waste and resources required. In addition, it’s estimated that 90 percent of the fish that’s churned into fishmeal for aquaculture could be used for human nutrition. That’s certainly behind the motivation to find alternative sources of protein for humans. The same is true of our furry friends. In this article, we’ll take a look at insect-based pet food and animal feed startups.
Last year, we introduced you to eight startups selling edible insects and bugs for human consumption. Bugs are nutritious, full of protein, and sustainable, with a relatively light footprint on the environment in terms of production and processing. However, in the article, we noted that investors are still pretty shy about the insect market for two-legged animals, regardless of how much dark chocolate you pour over organically grown and roasted crickets. That’s reflected in the relatively modest amount of money raised by the companies on the list. Investors aren’t nearly so skittish when it comes to processing bugs into bowls of doggie chow. In AgFunder’s 2018 annual report on the agrifood tech scene, investments in insect farming topped the charts in the category of novel farming systems:
In fact, the No. 1 spot was taken by AgriProtein, which raised $105 million, the most for an insect farm until last month when a French startup called Ynsect took in $125 million. There are an estimated 50 insect farm startups by one count, mainly concentrated in Europe, that have raised $480 million to date, according to AgFunder News. Last year, these companies produced 6,000 tons of insects, based on data from the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed, a trade association for bug farmers.
The list below is not comprehensive: We’re focusing on the companies that have taken in the biggest rounds since about 2017, when investments started creeping up in a big way.
Worming Its Way to the Top
Founded in 2011, Ynsect says it has attracted more than $175 million in investments, including February’s $125 million Series C. The company will use the new funds to build what it calls the world’s largest insect farm in northern France based on a pilot project that began in 2016. At capacity, the new facility will produce 20,000 tons of protein annually for pet food and aquaculture. Ynsect boasts 25 patents to its name, though the technology model is a bit similar to indoor vertical farms, employing robotics, automation and machine learning throughout the process:
Ynsect is one of the few insect farming companies that use small beetles known as mealworms as its primary “livestock” rather than black soldier fly larvae like most companies. Its insect-based pet food can be used for both dogs and cats, as well as rodents, birds, and reptiles. The product comes in both powder and oil form (replacing less sustainable oils like palm oil and coconut oil that help make the food palatable). And, like many of the other startups in this list, it also makes a natural fertilizer. In this case, it uses the mealworm castings, as the world turns away from synthetic fertilizers.
Human Food Waste to Fish Food
Founded in 2009, AgriProtein is technically based in the UK through a holding company, though its main farm is based in Cape Town, South Africa. The startup has raised $122.5 million in disclosed funding, including a $105 million round last June. AgriProtein uses black soldier flies and their larvae to convert organic food waste into fishmeal for fish, poultry, pigs, and pet food, though the company is mainly focused on aquaculture at this time. Its South African factory can convert up to 100 tons of food waste per day from food factories, supermarkets, farms, and restaurants, producing about 2,000 tonnes of its MagMeal protein per year, along with a residual soil conditioner called MagSoil.
AgFunder News reported that the company is planning on using the funds to open several more insect factories in the Middle East, Asia, and South Africa, with the capacity to take 250 tons of food waste per day. Its insect-based oil, while intended for fish, was used on a polar expedition in Antarctica to help flavor the penguin steaks.
Insect-based Animal Feed in Aquaculture
Another insect feed company based in France, InnovaFeed has raised about $63 million over a couple of rounds last year. InnovaFeed produces the usual trifecta of products from black soldier flies – a protein powder, an oil rich in lauric acid (known for its antimicrobial properties), and a fertilizer made from sanitized insect droppings. The startup is particularly focused on aquaculture, a market generally valued somewhere north of $150 billion and growing.
Insect-based Wet Pet Food
Founded in 2009, Dutch startup Protix Biosystems raised about $50.5 million in June 2017, reportedly the biggest funding at the time for an insect farm company. It wasted little time before making its first acquisition, a company called Fair Insects that produces bugs like crickets, grasshoppers, and yellow mealworm for the human food market. Protix has also been busy marketing its black soldier fly proteins for chicken feed and aquaculture, creating branded insect-fed chicken eggs and insect-fed salmon. The startup is also pushing hard into the insect-based pet food market. It’s ProteinX is one of the main ingredients in a new premium dog food in the UK. It’s also developing a new wet pet food based on insect protein called PureeX that is supposed to be good for gut health. We’ll stick with yogurt.
Insect Grub for Pets and Livestock
Founded in 2007, Vancouver-based Enterra Feed has raised $10 million in disclosed funding, though a mystery round last September reportedly put the company’s value at about $100 million. The startup has indicated it will build three new production facilities in North America, each at a cost of $30 million, AgFunder News reported. In addition to a protein powder and oil, Enterra sells whole, dried black soldier fly larvae that can be used as treats for birds, chickens, and other animals, or blended with other ingredients for insect-based pet foods and animal feed smoothies.
Insect-based Feed for Hipsters
Founded in 2014, London-based EntoCycle has raised $2.4 million. The startup claims that its technology “combines automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning” to produce insect protein from pre-consumer food waste like spent grain from local breweries or used grounds from local coffee roasters. The black soldier fly larvae enjoy a food orgy that lasts for about week, bulking up with about 45% to 65% protein. The insects are then turned into a flour for other feed manufacturers to use. The frass (hipster speak for insect poo) is used to produce a natural fertilizer.
Insect-based Feed in America
Founded in 2015, Seattle-based Beta Hatch is the lone startup out of the United States on this list, having raised $2.1 million. Like Ynsect, Beta Hatch prefers the humble mealworm as its insect livestock of choice, thanks to its 56% protein and 32% fat content. The company manages its own mealworm breeding program, saying that its “genetic platform allows for customization of future strains, including the ability to use a wide range of feedstocks. Selectively bred insects and novel diet blends mean we can customize the nutritional profiles of our products.”
Beta Hatch has a pilot “ranch” in Seattle that focuses on fishmeal for salmon, and the results have shown the farm-raised salmon grow equally well with a steady diet of mealworm versus standard fishmeal mixtures. The company is also working with other U.S. insect producers to establish production standards in the United States, sharing its “agnostic” insect ranching technology with black soldier fly farms.
Insect-based Dog Food and Treats
Founded in 2015, Wilder & Harrier out of Montreal is developing a line of insect-based dog food and treats made out of black soldier flies, crickets, and mealworms. The startup has raised about $700,000 for what it calls the first dehydrated insect protein dog food. In addition to insects, the recipe reads like a hippy’s shopping list: spent seeds (quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat), chickpeas, sweet potatoes, peas, lentils, juice pulp, coconut, microalgae, and rosemary extract. Both the dog food and dog snacks are offered on a subscription basis.
Insect farms raising bugs for pet food and animal feed are starting to raise some serious cash over the last year or so. Most of those funds are going toward building major manufacturing facilities to produce insect-based pet food and animal feed at scale for the first time. It’s a nascent industry with plenty of volatility ahead, no doubt, and a few acquisitions to date. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that a player like Cargill, which has shown a strong interest in other alternative protein companies, ensnares itself an insect farm in the future. An IPO from one of the more well-funded companies isn’t out of the question, but it would likely come out of Europe.