Protix Biosytems Enters Joint Venture With Process Engineering Giant Buhler, Signaling Hope for Scalable Insect Production

Through a joint venture, Buhler, the well-known Swiss food and feed process engineering company, and Protix Biosystems (client registration required), a start-up focused on insect production, have founded Buhler Insect Technology Solutions with the goal of developing scalable insect rearing and processing solutions for the food and feed markets. Within this joint venture, Protix Biosystems brings nearly a decade of insect-rearing expertise, while Buhler brings the expertise of building processing plants on a global scale.

Located in Liyang, China, Buhler Insect Technology Solutions will initially focus on Black Soldier Fly larvae, with plans to diversify into additional insects. The company will be involved in the entire production value chain, including insect rearing, harvesting, and processing of insect ingredients. While we expect the company to initially target the animal feed market with its protein ingredients, successful production scale-up will help pave the way for penetration into the human food market, as well.

The potential for the use of insects to help address the global need for increased protein production has caught much media attention over the past several years. To date, Europe has gained the most traction (see the November 11, 2014 LRFNJ and January 13, 2015 LRFNJ [client registration required for both]), fueled by the 2013 report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization urging developers to consider insects as a solution for food and feed security. Proponents of the solution tout claims of excellent nutrition and high sustainability, citing only potential negative consumer sentiment as a drawback. However, the reality of executing on this solution has been held back by a lack of scale, with most insect producers running production facilities at mere pilot scale. The founding of Buhler Insect Technology Solutions demonstrates a significant milestone on the timeline of insect protein implementation, as successful scale-up will give insect proteins the opportunity to enter both the feed and food markets at a meaningful volume.

Buhler is the first large processing company to enter the emerging insect production market, but we do not expect it to be the last. Assuming this venture will successfully reach its target scale (which is currently undisclosed), we expect the competitive landscape to thicken quickly. While Buhler and Protix Biosystem’s announcement of producing insects at a commercial scale is extremely significant for the industry, it remains to be seen if the two companies can successfully execute. We urge readers to monitor this space, as the lessons learned from the duo’s scaling-up process can help guide scale-up efforts within subsequent commercial partnerships.

By: Camilla Stice