Thai Union, Orgafeed producing insect-based pet food in growing global segment
By Chalermlapvoraboon Valaiporn
BANGKOK, NNA - Would you feed creepy crawly insects to your dog? Probably not.
But processed protein from certain insects like the black soldier fly has made its way into dog food in recent years.
Although the insect-based food segment is only a small fraction of the overall pet food market, it is growing rapidly with more players entering the fray, such as Swiss food giant Nestle, UK's Yora Foods and France-based Tomojo.
In Thailand, which is a leading pet food producer in the region, major pet food player Thai Union, and start-up Orgafeed Co.(Orgafeed) are getting in on the act.
Thai Union, which is a major seafood exporter, plans to launch another line of pet food that is based on insect protein in early 2021, its spokeswoman told NNA.
“We are working on insect protein as an alternative source in a range of treats and emulsified meats that will be launched in the first part of 2021,” she said.
"These will positively impact on our carbon footprint as well as those of our customers who buy these products. In addition, we already have a goal in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our facilities, including those handling our pet care business," said the spokesman, who added that the company has already implemented sustainable practices for its seafood and pet food products.
Meanwhile, Orgafeed had already started selling its Laika brand of insect-based dog treats in the market.
Set up several months ago, the start-up is believed to be the country and Asia’s first pet food business to roll out insect protein for pets, using fruit and vegetable scraps to feed the larvae of black soldier flies.
Co-founders Ittikorn Thepmani and Petch Achariyasilp said they hope to grow their business well and encourage many pet owners to play a bigger role in reducing their carbon footprint.
Although Orgafeed is unable to reveal sales figures of Laika as it started only recently, Petch said "“our digits are growing."
"But the exciting numbers will come when we start to export six to nine months from now,” Petch told NNA
Orgafeed aims to export Laika products to huge overseas markets like the United States and Europe over the next five years.
Currently, the company upcycles 50 tons of fruit and vegetable waste each month in order to produce Laika products. It aims to increase this to 130 tons monthly in 2021.
Supporting the zero-waste movement, Orgafeed obtains scraps from a juice producer and a company that supplies fruit and vegetable carvings to food businesses. They are fed to larvae till they grow into adults of an optimum size for processing.
The start-up, which is guided in areas of food safety and animal nutrition by veterinarians and university consultants, hopes to introduce a variety of pet treats.
However, its two partners feel they have a long way to go. They still have to change the mindsets of people skeptical about pet food containing insect protein even though eating certain insects is part of the food culture in Thailand and other Southeast Asian communities.
But Petch and Ittikorn, who were formerly working in the finance sector, are pressing on with their mission to spread the message of sustainable insect nutrition for pets and environment protection.
According to Thailand's Ministry of Public Health, 100g of insects can provide as much as 27.6g of protein, whereas the same amount of minced pork, chicken and tuna offers between 19.5 and 24.9g.
The Orgafeed founders also pointed out that the cultivation of insects need very little natural resources such as land and water compared to animal farming. It also produces much less carbon emission.
The waste production from their farm can easily be turned into compost, which can be used as a fertilizer to grow food crops, they said.
In the first nine months of 2020, Thailand exported over 450 million kg of dog and cat food, an increase of 12 percent over the same period last year.
Globally, more people are keeping pets, according to Mordor Intelligence, which also noted that over one-third of Thailand households now owns a pet.
Orgafeed is hoping to get the department of livestock to certified Laika pet treats as safe and sustainable.
After all, sustainable business startups are highly encouraged and supported by Thailand’s National Innovation Agency (NIA); Ministry of Higher Education, Science Research and Innovation; and National Technology Development Agency, they said.
“In countries of Europe and North America, pet foods containing insect protein are already backed and approved by governments,” said Petch, who noted that such products are growing in popularity in countries such as Germany, France and the Scandinavian region.
Companies like Entoma, Goood UK and Magnussons are manufacturing insect-based dog and cat food, using locally sourced ingredients and sustainable water-based energy for production.
Meanwhile, another leading Thai pet food producer, Asian Seafoods, told NNA that it is producing dog food containing protein derived from egg white for canines with allergy problems for the North American market.
When asked whether it will produce insect-based pet food, its spokeswoman said, "We have to closely monitor the market trend in Asia and our customers’ demand.”