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Written by: Ditsa Keren on Feb 14th, 2022

Meet Protenga 2022: Sustainable Pet Food Made From Insects

Protenga develops data-driven Insect Technology that enables a circular, regenerative, economy all along the food supply chain and produces best-in-class, sustainable Insect Products for pet food, animal feed, and plants. In this interview, founder and CEO Leo Wein lists the benefits of insect farming and its role in providing quality nutrition for animals.

Tell us about Protenga and how it got started

At Protenga, we’re developing insect farming technology and systems for the production of sustainable protein and to create a circular economy in the food chain.

We take our inspiration from the natural world, where there’s no waste, and everything just runs in cycles. In human-created systems, there's a lot of waste and linearity. The human food system goes from produce to consume to dispose and restart. But how does nature do it?

In nature, insects play a really important role to create circles of life from the bottom of the food chain. Insects provide nutrition for a lot of other animals, whether it's farm animals or domestic pets. At the same time, they’re decomposers. They stand at the end of the life cycle to break down organic matter.

This concept was the inspiration for us to start developing solutions that could harness the insect’s role in nature for our human food systems and create a new basis for nutrition that impacts both the production of fruits and vegetables because we produce an organic fertilizer as a byproduct, as well as nutrition for animals.

Insects concentrate nutrients. They’re rich in protein, amino acids, and have a very good fatty acid profile. They’re high in minerals, and they're very digestible for pretty much all animals. 

Our focus has been on the development of efficient farming and bioconversion systems. It’s a new form of farming that’s been very technology-driven right from the start. We use software and IT systems to control the environmental factors and analyze production data. The end results are very high-quality nutrients for animals. We provide that for the pet food and animal farming industry as a more sustainable alternative to conventional ingredients like fish meal.

In the last year, after bringing our technology to commercial maturity and establishing our first three production units in Malaysia, we've shifted our commercial focus towards the pet food space, making pet food radically more sustainable with YumGrubs, our pet food brand.

Global pet food production has a huge environmental footprint, comparable with that of whole countries the size of the Philippines or Mozambique. It's significant because most pets, namely cats and dogs, are omnivores or carnivores, meaning they eat animal proteins. That has a strong impact on natural resources across the whole production cycle. It creates greenhouse gas emissions along the whole food chain.

A lot of pet foods out there aren't made from very good ingredients, either. You see a beefsteak or salmon fillet on the label, but that's not actually what's inside. Often, the ingredients are low-digestibility by-products at best, with a very low inclusion rate and a lot of fillers. We realized that with our farming system and the vertically-integrated value chain that we've created, we’re actually able to produce a much more sustainable product with a low environmental footprint that’s also a highly nutritious, digestible, and yummy alternative for pets. That’s YumGrubs!

Our feedstocks for the insects are plant-based agricultural and food manufacturing byproducts. We have full traceability, visibility, and control across the entire value chain. This ensures YumGrubs ingredients are wholesome, natural, and farm-fresh for optimal safety, freshness, and to preserve the full nutritional value.

We have developed four incredibly exciting, balanced, natural, and complete formulations for dogs, which we're launching in early 2022. Sustainable cat nutrition will come soon, too! We're looking forward to bringing our products to market in South East Asia and also to European and American stores.

What’s your target audience?

Our focus is on pets, but the truth is that pets have become members of the family. Among our focus groups, there are many customers who very closely check the pet food that they buy for their pets and sometimes also try it themselves first, before offering it to their pets. Sometimes they home-cook for their pets or get specialty products to aid their diet.

What does your product look and feel like? 

A lot of players in the insect farming industry produce insect protein powder. We also have that as a core product but our product focus is on YumGrubs pet food for dogs. It comes as wet pet food in cans and pouches and with four balanced and vet-approved, AAFCO compliant formulations. Our front-runner is the Farmers Garden Paté with our insect protein and fresh vegetables.

We take our insects as the main source of nutrition and we add local and regional fresh vegetables. Finally, we pack all of that freshness with zero additives, into delicious pet food products under the YumGrubs brand.

If you look at the product, you probably wouldn’t recognize that it contains insects. They smell and taste just like other premium-quality pet foods, except you can see the vegetables in them, such as carrots and potatoes. The difference is in the high protein and amino acid digestibility of the product.

We’ve done quite a lot of work researching the palatability and digestibility of the product. It's something that dogs really like and at the same time, it’s good for the planet.

How does the price compare to standard pet food?

Often environmentally friendly products aren’t that sustainable for your pocket. When we say we want to make pet food radically more sustainable, we don't want to do that just for that 1% of super-premium dog owners, but for the mainstream. That means that our overall product offering has to be sustainable for the planet and economically affordable as a daily diet choice for pet owners.

The exciting thing is that we’re able to do that with our farming system that sits at the back of it. We’re not just a brand, we’re a farmer and primary producer. Buying from us is no different from buying from your local farmers’ market. Essentially that’s what we do and we can translate that into economics as well.

How do you expect the insect protein market to evolve in the coming years?

The exciting thing is that it’s already a rapidly growing market. Five years ago, there weren’t that many products with an emphasis on clean labels, natural ingredients, no preservatives or additives, and especially sustainability. I think that’s changed a lot in the last few years.

There’s a whole segment of insect-based pet food now emerging within the broader category of natural, sustainable, clean-label pet foods that also encompasses the emerging plant-based and vegan segments. Most of the existing brands offer dry kibbles because they don’t actually produce the insects, so they don’t have fresh produce available that they can use. They just source the dried insects and use existing co-manufacturers to make and pack the kibbles.

The whole segment of natural and sustainable products is dynamic, vibrant, and exciting. I’m confident that it’ll become a large mainstream segment in the coming years. Five years ago, organic shops were pretty rare, and plastic packaging was the norm. Today, many supermarkets stock a large number of organic products and you bring your own bags. 

The awareness of sustainability issues has evolved so rapidly. It’s all steps in the right direction – and the sum of many of these changes creates real impact and change.

Do you also plan to make human food from insects?

If you want to eat it, you could nourish yourself very well, but we don't have plans to venture into human foods just yet because the opportunity in the pet food space is so big that it gives us years of work ahead.

That said, we do have a rich R&D portfolio including a project with the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore under Singapore’s 30 by 30 roadmap to increased food production. We're looking at developing protein isolates that are food grade and demonstrating their functional value to bring certified food-grade ingredients from insects to market in the future.

For now, we’re super focused on YumGrubs and making pet food radically sustainable at scale! Stay tuned, follow us on Social Media and YumGrubs.com

About The Author

Ditsa Keren

PR Writer, Delivery Rank

Ditsa is a tech blogger and entrepreneur with a passion for innovative solutions that eliminate food waste and increase food security.

Ditsa is a tech blogger and entrepreneur with a passion for innovative solutions that eliminate food waste and increase food security.
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