How can the aquaculture feed industry get the most out of insect-based ingredients?

That was one of the key messages delivered today by Rabobank seafood analyst Gorjan Nikolik, in a talk titled “Crawl no more: Insect proteins will mature in the 2020s”.

Speaking at an event organized by Adisseo, Nikolik pointed out that the global aquaculture feed sector currently uses 42 million tonnes of raw materials per year, while global insect production is less than 10,000 tonnes. He expects insect production to increase significantly in the coming years – fueled by the impressive levels of investment in the sector – to reach around 500,000 tonnes per year by 2030, of which around 200,000 tonnes will likely be available for aquaculture feed. However, as he observed, this is only a fraction of the food ingredients used by the sector.

Despite this, he argued that insect producers may be able to make a far greater impact than their fairly modest production levels suggest. Indeed, he argued that insect producers will thrive if they are able to focus on differentiating their product through new value-added propositions – including focusing on the nutritional, functional and environmental benefits of the use of insects in aquaculture feeds.

Currently, as Nikolik pointed out, insect protein is still too expensive to produce for common use as bulk protein in aquaculture feeds. And this is compounded by the fact that, despite forecasts to the contrary, the price of fishmeal has remained remarkably stable over the past 4-5 years – making it unlikely that insectmeal will reach price parity. with fishmeal, even if its cost of production is set to decline.

A three-step evolution of a six-legged sector

As a result, according to Nikolik, insect protein is unlikely to replace fishmeal or soy, but it could command better prices if research into its potential to improve factors such as gut health, of growth and food palatability were proving successful. And he outlined three possible steps for the evolution of the selling points of insect-based ingredients in aquaculture feeds.

The first stage – which is the current stage – concerns the sector’s nutritional and sustainability benchmarks.

“It seems that by now most aquaculture feed formulators are fully aware that insert proteins have a very strong nutritional benefit. This means they are healthy for the fish, the fish grow well and there is nothing wrong with the fish – no deformities etc.

The second step, according to the Rabobank analyst, is to determine which species and life stages are likely to benefit the most from including insects in their diet.

“Further research is needed to fully understand where the impact of insect protein is greatest. And which species exactly – will it be something like eel or sturgeon, for example, because they are freshwater species and are normally very large insect eaters – will benefit the most from palatability, gut health benefits [of insect meal]. Or will it be the smaller fish, like salmon smolts, that will benefit the most? ” He asked.

“These details – the functional properties such as gut health and growth – is where the research continues at the moment and I think understanding that better will be crucial as the sector brings in more volume and we have more opportunities to build the aquafeed market,” explained Nikolik.

Looking further, Nikolik hinted at some intriguing – though still unproven – benefits that could increase the impact of insect-based aquaculture feed ingredients to new levels.

“And the third – and this is probably the most interesting – what I understand from the research is that supposedly insects, they have molecules and substances in their bodies that protect them from bacteria. You can imagine they can thrive in highly pathogenic bacterial environments, for example. Researchers from universities and some laboratories are focusing on extracting some of these products or breeding some of these products from insects,” he noted.

“In a way, you shouldn’t see the insect as just a substance. It’s not just a protein or an oil. If you compare to a pig – a pig, you have chops and bones of pork and you make gelatin, etc. Also, from insects you can make different products, some of these products could be very interesting because of this antibacterial ability of insects, so maybe we can develop drugs or pharmaceuticals from the skin or gut of the larvae It’s quite a long and distant future from now, maybe 10 years from now, but it really shows the potential that it could it’s even more than protein or oil,” Nikolik ventured.

Rabobank’s support

While this third phase could be a way out. Nikolik’s belief in the potential offered by the insect sector is strong and, as he has observed, it is a sector in which Rabobank fully supports and has invested.

“As a bank, we are very enthusiastic about the industry. We fully realize this is at an early stage, but we are an investor in the sector – we have invested in a company both as a lender and as an equity investor. We see the bill moving in the right direction. We have seen that the marketing of the product – both how it is used as an ingredient but also of the finished products – is improving and there are more and more ideas.

“As I mentioned, a lot more R&D is needed, but there is already very good science…. And, so far, the inflow of capital has been quite good, so expect construction to continue in the next 2-4 years and the volume of the sector to increase,” he concluded. .