Novel natural ingredients: Proti-Farm looks to scale up insect production

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08 Jan 2018 --- The demand for natural and specialty foods has increased dramatically in recent years and is expected to continue to rise even further in the near future. Meeting this demand may require producers to take a closer look at “alternative” ingredients. Among the various novel “natural” ingredients that are available, ingredients derived from insects in various forms are now seen as “the new kid on the block” taking their place alongside algae, seaweed and legumes.

In July last year, new novel food implementing rules have the support of insect producers. The International Platform of Insects for Food & Feed (IPIFF) welcomed the EU’s recent publication of a package of proposals setting out detailed requirements for the European Union’s “novel food” legislation. The IPIFF federation now seeks rapid adoption of these new rules.
Proti-Farm is one of the world’s leading producer of edible insects. Based in The Netherlands and after acquiring Kreca in 2014 they have been in the insect producing business since more than 35 years. The company group started with over ten different insect species for the animal feed industry, however, since 2007, the group is producing edible insects for human consumption.

FoodIngredientsFirst caught up with Heidi de Bruin of Proti-Farm Holding NV, who discussed the company's strategy for the coming year and why they are scaling up production. “We are in the middle of a large scale-up of our facility in the Netherlands, which means 2018 is going to be a very big year for us. For the past two years, we have been working hard to pool our engineering and in the last year (2017) we installed the machinery so we are almost fully completed, at the moment we are conducting test runs.”
“Our new facility in Ermelo, the Netherlands will start to produce thousands of tons of buffalo larvae and that means that we have the technology, after the presence the right know-how in this space. We are really looking to produce a lot of raw materials it will be a very important year for us this year,” she claims.
“Within the next couple of months we are scaling up the production at our facility,” de Bruin continues, “So that we are a fully operative automated factory for the buffalo (lesser mealworm) specifically for human nutrition. That is the only insect that we are scaling up and we are also ready with our novel food dossier for the buffalo mealworm which we will submit to the European Commission early January 2018. “In the meantime, we keep fine-tuning the factory, to ensure everything is at it should be in terms of production,” she adds. It has been a busy year and a lot has been happening in the human nutrition space for insects.”
According to de Bruin, the demand for insects as a food source has dramatically increased in the past eighteen months, and she notes that there are many requests for various types of insect food products. “We see a lot of requests coming out of the food industry, for example, some are looking for ingredients to enrich products with protein and we also see a strong demand for hybrid meat products such as adding in between 30-80 percent of buffalo flour to food products.”
“We are going to put on the market only the flour (non-extractive types of buffalo) because during the transitionally period, until January 1, 2019 we can bring to the market what was already legally placed so that many products out there will be allowed. So we can stay on the market with those products and we definitely see a trend of moving ingredients into processed meats but also for nutritional and for functional protein demands, however, for the functional side a lot of work still needs to be done,” she states. “On the nutritional side, we have a very clear picture of the market for the buffalo mealworm.”
Proti-Farm, along with its partners, has conducted a lot of research into the area of insects for human nutrition. “We did a lot for our Novel Food of course, and we have full date on the composition, the allergenicity and toxicology. In the meantime there are a lot of scientific studies in the market, for example, with Wageningen University, who we work very closely with and our own research with external companies,” de Bruin says.  “We are also working closely together with wag uni but also with the Danish Technological Institute, so we are working together with the students and the company so they can perform studies and run tests in this area as well.”
De Bruin believes that trend towards healthy food is driving the acceptance of eating insects as part of a daily diet: “Consumers are looking for foods that are antibiotic free, chemical free, hormone free but also lactose-free and of course, insects answer to all of the above. They are sugar-free, low-salt, contain important vitamins and minerals and contain all nine essential amino acids and the way we breed them and produce them in our facilities are all under control in the right way,” she reveals. 
“For instance, if you put a whole mealworm in front of a consumer and ask them to eat it just like that, there will certainly be some resistance towards consuming it in this way. Within Europe, a lot of people are still scared by this concept but we are investing in educational plans within schools as part of the reason we are scaling up production too,” notes de Bruin. “In schools, we want to teach children about healthy foods and actually with children, there is no issue if you are using insects as an ingredient, in bakery products or pasta, for example.” “Only with the right education and information, will this acceptance of insects change, and people have to understand the message and nutritional aspects of insects,” she adds.
There is a market that has shown interest in consuming interest as a food source and that is the flexitarian but also vegetarian market, according to de Bruin. “They more accepting and have less of an issue of eating buffalo mealworm products than conventional animals, we really see a trend going on for this industry. However, there are several trends going on as to why they are vegetarian in the first place,” she explains. “They are more accepting of buffalo mealworms as a sustainable food source and we have got requests from people who are vegetarian that want to try these products. It does show that there is a gap there, it could be quite a niche, but it is definitely something to keep an eye on.”
“Insect phenomena is on the horizon for sure,” confirms de Bruin, “But there need to be really good products on the market. So we are working with strategic partners to make delicious products from insects, and if people eat them and enjoy them there will be a repeat purchase. If the products are not healthy, they will start to buy conventional meat products again, so what is really important is that the right products are on the shelves and those products are safe and healthy to humans.”
“The intention is to keep prices low – that is why we are doing a large scale up to maximize cost reduction and be attractive in the market for people who want to buy our products. If we didn’t scale up it would be more expensive but that’s the reason we have don’t that in order to offer a reasonable price on our products,” de Bruin concludes.
By Elizabeth Green

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