Flying SpArk specialises in fruit-fly protein, and is the first beneficiary of Thai Union’s recently-established US$30mn venture fund targeting food technology, with a focus on alternative protein, functional nutrition and value chain.
“What we are looking at doing with Thai Union’s investment is to further enhance our R&D activities, as well as to scale up production as much as we can,” Flying SpArk CEO Eran Gronich told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“We are currently running pilots at small scale with a number of food companies like Nestle and Bimbo Group, and now are just waiting to scale up.
“Another important area to look at will be cost reduction, as cost of production is currently still quite high. Though I cannot go into specifics about that, I can share that our target cost, particularly with our protein powder at this point, is US$10 per kilogramme.
“The more we scale up, the lower we should be able to go with price, so the goal is to continue with the search for more strategic partners and investments to realise this.”
He added that although it was still too early to tell what sorts of new products are in the pipeline in terms of co-development with Thai Union, he had high hopes for the partnership and the region as a whole.
“Thai Union is one of the biggest in the region for tuna and seafood products, and are experts at manufacturing and the entire chain – we hope to learn from them in terms of setting up production, cost reduction, strategy and the like,” Gronich added.
“South East Asia is an important target region for us, because consuming insects is already in the culture for consumers, and not culturally strange to them.
“Beyond this, Asia as a whole is a very important too, not least because of the huge market size and potential, especially in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Korea. Even without China and India, there are already billions of people here, and importantly, many people in this region suffer issues from a lack of protein, and we believe we have a role to play in fixing this.”
According to Thai Union CEO Thiraphong Chansiri, the investment was one of many in an attempt to move the company beyond its traditional seafood business.
“[We] will increasingly cooperate with innovative start-ups in strategically interesting areas. This will complement our own activities as we are broadening our business beyond our traditional core," he said.
Fruit fly for the win
Flying SpArk’s core offering centres around the Mediterranean fruit fly Ceratitis capitate, a cousin of the oriental fruit fly commonly found in Asia that feeds on decaying fruits and other plant matter.
“Other insect protein companies deal with crickets or grasshoppers or black soldier flies – we are different,” said Gronich.
“We believe that this fruit fly is more efficient that most of these – it can multiply its body mass by 250x, and because we use it at its larval stage, it is by nature very nutritionally dense at that stage as it is storing nutrients before entering the pupal stage.
“When processed into powder, the fruit fly larvae is about 70% protein and 12% minerals in total – these include calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, fibre and more. Importantly, it can provide 200% to 300% of a human’s daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of these nutrients with high bioavailability per serving.”
In terms of its benefits for food manufacturer use into other products, Gronich added that these flies are very clean and have hardly any smell or taste, so can be use with a myriad of other ingredients and applications.
“Its efficiency is also so much higher than that of say a cow – it uses less than 1% of the water and land as compared to cattle farming, and in just one square metre I can produce the equivalent of protein that can be gotten from a 300kg-400kg cow in a whole year,” he said.
That said, Gronich acknowledged that a major challenge faced by the company was consumer reaction to the products.
“There’s still a psychological barrier and some negative reactions to the use of insects as food,” he told us.
“It’s a challenge not just us, but the food manufacturers hoping to market such products need to overcome as well.
“However, recent surveys have found that especially millennials who are aware of what they buy and eat are getting more open to this – some 25% of this group have indicated that they are willing to consume insect protein as part of food products.”
He also highlighted a new dietary trend called ‘entoveganism’ on the rise – a combination of a vegan diet with insect consumption, to supplement for the proteins required.