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co-prot

Insectpreneurs Series: Gil Berholz from Co-Prot

Today we are going to learn about the Insectpreneur story behind Co-Prot.

Co-Pro was founded by Gil Berholz, who was educated in both agricultural science and agribusiness,  and has extensive experience in agri-trade and export industry. In order to supply the growing insect-based animal protein feed business, Co-Prot was established with a focus on South East Asian markets.

I have followed Gil’s adventures since the beginning, 2 preparation months and the opening  of their pilot facility on 0.4 hectare in Siem Reap, the Kingdom of Cambodia.   His overcoming some difficulties and managing to get the breeding cycle started, his energy on looking for partners and sponsors to support them in the value chain development, product development and processing development.  I am very thankful to him for allowing us to share his story, because as he himself puts it:

“It is not simple and it is not a goldmine as one may think”

Now, let’s dive into the Co-Prot story with Gil…

What sparked your interest in Black Soldier Fly?

Black Soldier Fly

Black Soldier Fly (courtesy of Wikipedia)

The lack of sustainable protein solution for animal feed was the trigger. The Black Soldier Fly (also known as BSF) was very attractive because of its ability to process organic waste and grow on wide variety of feed materials.

Note: Find out more about other businesses using BSF in this article.

What prompted you to look further into rearing Black Soldier Fly? And why Cambodia?

At first glance rearing BSF seemed to make a decent business model. Cambodia has space, tropical weather and simplicity of opening such ventures. Cost wise it is also very attractive.

Its potential location is good: between huge protein markets: Thailand, Vietnam, China Taiwan etc.

What Were the First Steps You Took To Start The Business?

Developing a rearing protocol and building a rearing farm.

What Early Lessons Did You Learn?

Well, this lesson was not early, but after investigating with an investor we saw that BSF rearing is not really scalable, and risks are higher than potential returns. So we had to pull the plug from this initiative.

For example:

First, to produce 1 ton of dry insect meal, one will need about 15-20 tons of fresh (wet) organic waste of high quality. So to produce a 40 foot container of insect meal, one will need 400 tons of fresh waste. That requires a huge logistical operation of waste collection sorting and transport. This practically means that primary operation of such a company is waste management, and secondary activity is protein production.

Secondly feed safety is a big concern. It is still unknown if antibiotics, pathogens, heavy metals, microtoxins etc. are passing through from the rearing substrate to the end product. That means that many cheap and available substrates, such as pig manure and uncontrolled waste have to be excluded. This has a large impact on scaling the operation.

Thirdly growing factors such as

  • diseases
  • genetic defects
  • inbreeding

are not yet explored and managed. Issues like these could wipe out the whole operation in matter of few days.

For these reasons the EU legislation is not moving forward very quickly to allow insects in the feed chain.

However these reasons/risks are also valid for the whole world. At the current possible selling price for insect meal of 950$-1350$/ ton, a production of minimum 3000 ton per year starts to be interesting.

To get hold of enough safe, high quality larva feed to produce this large quantity is a challenge and a large business risk. Let alone that acquiring business license, quality and safety certifications to grow and produce insect meal. This can be a lengthy, expensive process that can take more than 2 years.

Put all of these together and you have a very risky business!

Tell Us About Finding Your First client

Finding clients was actually not a problem. We were contacted by more than 25 companies, among them some multinationals that wanted to experiment with Insect meal. The market really wants to see this product coming and is looking forward to it.

What Are Your Current Aims for Co-Prot and the Insect Industry?

Co-Prot is currently not active. If some company will crack the scalability and safety issues and will produce large quantities on insect meal, Co-Prot will be happy to be the marketing agent for their produce in Asia, as we have very interesting contacts there that are willing to buy insect proteins.

I believe that the insect industry for animal feed will stay a negligible niche until these issues are solved. In order that large feed companies will invest in producing formulas containing insect proteins there will have to be at least 100,000 tons produced every year with at least 3 large producers. Only then the mainstream feed industry will step in. Currently we are very far from this point.

What is your advice for entrepreneurs considering entering the industry?

Prepare well for the challenges. It is not simple and it is not a goldmine as one may think !

Interested in more Inspiring Insectpreneurs?

This is an ongoing series of interviews with driven and successful entrepreneurs in the Insects for Food/Feed business.

You can find the rest of the series here.

If you know of an inspiring Insectpreneur who you think should be showcased in this series (even if it is you!), be sure to get in touch with me.