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.

Today you are in for a treat, but not your standard kind. We are interviewing the Ento Bento team about dog treats!

Most of our interviewees in this series are either creating products for human consumption or industry. So this will make for an interesting take on the insects as food challenge!

The Ento Bento team are currently rallying support with their kickstarter campaign, so please take a moment to pop over and take a look (either before or after reading the interview :>)

The Ento Bento Team

The Ento Bento Team

What Sparked Your Interest in Dog Treats?

We started out as complete strangers in a Startup Competition with the idea to create automated insect grow kits. When we did our market research, we found consumers were not quite ready to harvest insects in their home, restaurant, or garden. We talked to random people at the farmer’s market and asked questions about what insect products they would consider using. The most popular answer was that they were comfortable feeding insects to their dogs because their dogs ate them already.

We discussed the findings amongst our team and found we all love dogs! We kept the idea going with a mission to promote insect protein starting with man’s best friend!

What Prompted You to Look Further Into Cricket Powder As Source of Protein for the Dog Treats?

First we were looking at harvesting mealworms as our protein source. Then we realized, with our San Diego, California city living situation, we didn’t have the resources to produce insects at scale.

We looked out for other insect protein in the market and found Aaron Dossey at All Things Bugs who was really cool and sent us a one pound (about .45kg) sample to get started!! There was more cricket powder out there and suppliers ramping up, so we knew crickets were our best starting point.

What Are the First Steps You Are Taking to Start This New Activity?

Our first steps have been researching as much as we could about the pet industry and dog nutrition. We knew we had to set ourselves apart with a healthy and sustainable treat. We worked with industry experts to create an awesome and delicious treat! We know we have to adapt to insect protein in the future.

We think the path to change can be through joy and wagging tails!

What Early Lessons Did You Learn?

We learned dogs are picky! They are used to processed, low quality meat based treats so we had difficulty at first with our healthy treats. We learned a ton from local chefs on how to get the right flavors and texture.

Tell Us About Finding Your First Client

We have a lot of happy sample testers, and we will have our first client really soon!

Our Kickstarter is launching 11/3/2015 so anyone within the US and Europe can pre-order our treats.

What Are Your Current Aims in the Pet Food Industry?

Ento Bento Feeding Dog TreatsOur goal is to create a healthy, high protein treat that dogs love, and owners appreciate for its eco-friendly properties.

What do you see as the main challenges for mainstream adaptation of insect-based for dog food/treats ?

I think our biggest challenge is education. Some people have an instinct to reject cricket protein. Our goal is to overcome that with expert analysis, bioavailability trials and constant comparison between the superior nutrition and sustainability aspects of insects versus traditional meat protein.

What Is Your Advice for Other Students Considering Entering the Insect-based Industry?

Do it!

It is a young industry and it almost seems like everyone is on the same team. I hope we see some phenomenal ideas and social business ventures in the industry.

Share a few recommendations for readers who are interested in exploring products containing cricket powder for their pet/dog product or diet!

Our inspiration is the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Especially their paper in 2013.

Cricket powder is just breaking into the pet industry as an alternative protein source. I think we will see a lot of advancement soon with treats and even food – we are really excited to be a part of it!!

If you like the idea too, please share our message!

Want To Meet More Insectpreneurs?

Here at 4Ento we are interviewing some of the up and coming stars, as well as industry leaders in our Insectpreneur Series.

So go check those out if you want more inspiration and insect eating goodness!

And don’t forget to check out Ento Bento’s Kickstarter campaign.