Bertrand Giorgi, COO of Tebrito, reveals just how sustainable and healthy insects can be as an alternative source of protein for humans, animals, and plants.
Tebrito launched in 2016 with the goal of using insects to upscale biomass into high-quality protein, and to make sustainable protein viable for the food market.
While using insects is an efficient solution in terms of climate, we realized that if we wanted westerners to eat them as an alternative source of protein, the insects could not be visible (for now).
As things stand, we simply don’t have time to convince the population of the benefits of insect protein for both our wellbeing and that of the planet. So it’s our task to make the solution highly usable now.
Working alongside the Swedish University of Agriculture, our first task was to develop the protein extraction process. Then, in 2019, we began an initial funding round to start a small production, and since then we’ve upscaled and grown.
The best example of our growth is our ongoing collaboration with TetraPak, where we devise new products together based on the high-concentration protein we manufacture.
TetraPak had previously tried other protein sources to achieve the results it needed while processing non-dairy based applications, to little or no avail. This is a great testimony to the quality and efficiency of our product.
We’re a supplier of natural nutrition solutions. We upscale biomass and turn non-food streams into food streams – food for the soil (fertiliser, which is one of our byproducts), food for cattle and livestock, and food for humans. We’re divided into three categories: Plant, Animal, and Human nutrition.
If you want to make an ingredient using insect flour, mealworms are one of the most suitable species for industrial ambitions.
The advantage of mealworms is that they’re native in mainland Europe, therefore not an invasive species. They don’t require much heat because they live en masse. The farming conditions are quite similar to their natural habitat, they emit virtually no CO2, and need little space and water.
Compared to beef, the carbon footprint and feed conversion rate of mealworms is incomparable – to produce 1kg of edible beef protein, 10kg of food must be fed to the cattle. With mealworms, 5kg of non-food is required for 1kg of edible protein and 2kg of organic fertilizer.
With mealworms, we’re not using food to produce food, and therefore emissions are at an all-time low. In addition, working with the right partners can offset emissions entirely to become carbon neutral – if not negative.
The only limitation is the initial expense, plus the “acceptance factor” – people don’t want to see insects. However, we’ve seen positive developments for both.
Circularity for us is the upscaling of certain goods that, at the end of the day, will be fed back into the food chain.
For example, we’re working with a Swedish timber, paper, and pulp manufacturer called SCA, which produces biosludge as a result of making paper. Biosludge has no value and needs to be disposed of. But if insects munch on this, it becomes fish feed, and the byproduct of the larvae production, or fertilizer, goes back to SCA and it plants its forest seedlings with this.
It’s a complete loop and a win-win situation.
Circularity is not an objective but a way of achieving sustainability.
First and foremost, food manufacturers. We want to facilitate their manufacturing processes. Again, I cite the example of our collaboration with TetraPak, a company that is renowned for packaging solutions.
Observing the non-dairy trend (Oatly is Swedish, too), TetraPak wanted to demonstrate its capability to produce oat-milk products that are enriched with alternative proteins. It tried with plant-based proteins, and other protein-based ingredients – including other insects – but wasn’t satisfied with the results.
Texture, mouthfeel, or taste was always an issue. It was only with our 88% pure protein ingredient that the product felt just right.
For now, it’s whole mealworms in the form of snacks.
We’re currently collaborating with organizations and companies like TetraPak to devise a whole new range of products that will extend beyond the snack sector to include bars, shakes, ice cream, and milks. As a Swedish company, we also have a recipe for meatballs!
I don’t see it in a specific way. I see the macro trend – by 2050 we’ll need 60% more protein. We need many different solutions to find alternative protein sources – it’s not just about using insects – and we need to act fast.
Startups and corporations have a huge task ahead of them to make sustainable protein usable for consumers. We don’t have time to lecture people and convince them of what they should be doing.
We have to bring solutions that consumers are ready and willing to accept. Price, nutrient content, texture, taste, shape, and feel all need to be taken into account.
We can make insect protein acceptable on an industrial scale. We know there is a market for niche and on-trend products, but introducing versatile and highly usable ingredients is a big challenge in the industry.