17 December 2020 - Founded in 2016 by Aude Guo, Bastien Oggeri, Clément Ray, and Guillaume Gras, InnovaFeed is a leading insect producer, breeder and processor. The company produces insect-based ingredients (protein and oil) for animal nutrition and upcycles its frass (insect droppings) as an organic fertilizer, derived from the Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia Illucens).
InnovaFeed claims to have developed a technology and process enabling the production of high-quality insect protein and oil at an industrial scale, with very low carbon footprint, and at a competitive price.
In recent weeks, the company made the headlines on several occasions by announcing the opening of its first industrial production site in Nesle in the north of France, plans to build another large production complex in partnership with ADM in Decatur, Illinois, and concluded fresh funding of EUR 140 million.
Feedinfo was able to discuss these developments and what was an eventful 2020 with InnovaFeed co-founder Clément Ray.
The impact of COVID-19 on demand for seafood and feed around the world was felt at various levels especially in the early weeks of the crisis in early-2020. Given that aqua feed is the primary market for insect protein feeds, in turn the global insect feed sector sometimes faced disruptions too.
But beyond the initial scares, the sector has proven resilient with some aqua feed players even recording their highest ever earnings throughout the period, argued Ray.
“Similarly, despite COVID-19, the insect sector has also demonstrated a strong resilience during the period with high levels of investments showing confidence in the sector as major aqua feed companies are looking for sustainable and low carbon footprint solutions and have committed to working with insect protein suppliers,” he said.
The opening of Nesle is also a milestone for the insect industry, Ray argued. While the opening was pushed back by a few months due to COVID-19 - it still occurred only 18 months after the lay of the first stone back in April 2019. Moreover, this year, his company never had doubts about its own projects or ambitions for the years to come.
Moreover, in November, InnovaFeed secured a new round of EUR 140 million in funds from existing investors French private equity firm Creadev and Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek. This brings the company’s total funding to EUR 200 million, to date.
“The funds will be used to further enhance our technology, our R&D programmes and to finance InnovaFeed’s future sites in France and in the US,” Ray said.
The InnovaFeed Nesle site which opened in November has a production capacity of 100,000 tonnes of ingredients including 15,000 tonnes of protein in the long run.
The automated factory is located next to starch manufacturer Tereos, who supplies its co-products to InnovaFeed directly through a pipeline. These co-products are then fed to the larvae. The Nesle plant is also powered by 100% green energy, including 60% waste energy from a wood biomass turbine and the remaining 40% from a power station using renewable resources.
This industrial set-up, what InnovaFeed calls the ‘symbiosis model’ and which was developed at InnovaFeed’s pilot production plant in Gouzeaucourt, allows for the reduction the Nesle plant’s environmental footprint by 80%, enabling the saving of 57,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.
“This model will be deployed to other global locations where InnovaFeed is also seeking to expand its manufacturing presence,” Ray commented.
One such location is Decatur, Illinois, where InnovaFeed has entered a collaboration to build an insect production site - InnovaFeed’s first international construction project.
The facility will be owned and operated by InnovaFeed and will co-locate with ADM’s large Decatur corn processing complex, with ADM supplying raw materials, waste heat and more. Construction is slated to begin in 2021, pending necessary permitting and approvals.
And once fully operational, the Decatur site is expected to have an annual production capacity of 60,000 tonnes of insect protein, which is four times the capacity at Nesle. The plant will also have the capability to produce 20,000 tonnes per year of oils for poultry and swine rations as well as 400,000 tonnes of fertilizer.
Talking about the fact that production capacity at the Decatur plant is four times bigger than in Nesle, Ray explained this has mainly to do with co-product availability.
“By collocating with the largest corn producer and deploying the technology that has been successfully deployed on our Nesle site, we are able to reach 4 times larger volumes, for an annual production capacity of 60,000 tonnes there,” he commented.
Having raw material supply is at the heart of InnovaFeed’s ‘symbiosis model’.
“Insects have the capacity to upcycle and valorise co-products to reinject high-quality nutrients into the value chain. We choose to deploy our technology to areas where there are vast amounts of these co-products available,” Ray said.
“Our co-product supply agreements with global agro-industry leaders are long-term. That is essential to our business model,” he added. “And on the customer side, we partner with the world’s largest aqua feed companies in some form or another. With them we have non-exclusive agreements. We look more at how strategic our potential clients are than at their geographical locations. We then decide together if we expand our reach to new markets.”
Asked if the ‘symbiosis model’ and the pipelines between InnovaFeed plants and raw material partner factories could encounter any interruptions in the supply of co-products, Ray was quick to stress that this would be a highly unlikely event.
“We have secured long-term supply agreements with our industrial partners that mitigate the risk for short-term unavailability. Besides, the scenario of long-term unavailability is not realistic, as the number of available co-products is huge, and we only absorb a small part of these deposits,” he said.
The insect feed market and its environmental potential are huge but there were significant technical barriers to overcome. For Ray, it is necessary for companies involved to invest in automation, robotics and AI.
“We have also invested EUR 10 million in the past few years in trials and studies to demonstrate the benefits of using insect protein in aqua feeds or in other species’ diets. To achieve the sustainability goals we have set, we needed to demonstrate the scalability of our model. This is done with the opening of Nesle that we will now replicate on other locations starting with Decatur,” he added.
Next year, InnovaFeed will continue to extend its symbiosis model and deliver on the target announced in late-2018, whereby the company stated it would invest over EUR 200 million in the launch of five new production sites.
Nesle and Decatur are obviously the first two industrial sites. However, Ray confirmed that InnovaFeed is working on a new European factory project. This development will be made public in 2021.
Also, next year the insect feed sector may witness some regulatory developments in Europe after more promising talks were held this year about the possibility of authorizing insect protein to other species than fish.
“I am confident that things will go in the right direction. The sector is benefitting from more and more scientific data and the use of insect feed in the EU is increasingly perceived as a natural process. And it is just a matter of time before authorisations are extended to other animal species,” Ray said.
But Ray also argued that such new authorisations may not be necessarily as game-changing as aqua feed once was.
“We still have a lot to accomplish in the aqua feed space and insect protein companies are not yet able to meet the increased demand from aqua feed suppliers at this stage,” he explained.
IPIFF (International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed) predicts that by 2025, Europe’s production of insect feed will reach 1.2 million tonnes per year.
This prediction was made in 2019 (so before the COVID-19 crisis), and asked if it seems realistic, Ray described it as an ambitious objective that will help motivate the growing sector.
“The industry will scale up dramatically in the next five years and the landscape will be very much different,” Ray argued.