Startup sees demand for insect protein creep up

By Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

Insect-derived ingredients from Tenebrio molitor / Image provided by Divaks
Insect-derived ingredients from Tenebrio molitor / Image provided by Divaks

Related tags Insect Insect protein Sustainability Protein Sports nutrition

Divaks, the insect ingredients start-up, is scuttling to meet fast-growing consumer demand for alternative protein sources with its mealworm plant expansion.

The Lithuanian company was founded in 2020 by entrepreneurs Audrius​ Grušnis Kęstutis​ Lipnickas; after learning about the potential of insect protein they had the vision of creating “high-quality insect-derived ingredients for the food industry that excel in nutritional and functional qualities.”

Recognising the potential for a high-margin venture in the food industry, the company launched its pilot facility in 2022, enabling Divaks to develop its insect protein offering and is currently approaching the closing stages of its Series A funding round, having already secured a substantial part of its €67 million target.

And now, Divaks has announced its collaboration with Swiss technology group Bühler to build its first commercial-scale yellow mealworm plant, which will open for production in 2025, aiming to produce up to 15,000 tonnes of insect-derived products annually, and double its current production by 2030.  

The plans to double production by 2030 align with the company’s anticipation of a significant rise in demand for insect protein as a direct reflection of consumer trends towards sustainable diets, Kęstutis Lipnickas, CEO of Divaks explains. 

Bühler will be responsible for all process technology, including feedstock preparation to provide safe and nourishing feed to the larvae, and a fully automated larvae growth system with climate control. 

Furthermore, Bühler will provide the processing line to transform the harvested larvae into textured insect proteins (TIP), insect protein concentrates (IPC), and other specialised food ingredients.

Lipnickas states: “Bühler will deliver the state-of-the art technology we need, allowing us to focus on the most important activities: market development and creating sustainable products that excel in nutritional and functional qualities.”

Why mealworms?

Yellow mealworm (the larval form of the yellow mealworm darkling beetle, known as Tenebrio molitor), is an “environmentally friendly, nutritious protein source that can be used in applications including meat alternatives, sports nutrition, snacks, and confectionery as well as premium pet food,” Lipnickas explains. 

“They are an excellent source of high-quality protein, with all nine essential amino acids necessary for human nutrition​. They also contain healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibres.” 

Insect proteins, including those from mealworms, have been found to have high digestibility rates​.

They have also been found​ to be a source of B-vitamins, including B12, which can often be lacking in plant-based diets​.

Additionally, they contain minerals​ like iron, zinc, potassium, and selenium, which are vital for various bodily functions, including immune response​ and antioxidant protection.

Intended applications 

Yellow mealworm is an ideal ingredient for sports nutrition, Lipnickas explains, as it is an area in which complete proteins are essential for muscle repair and growth.

“Insect-derived proteins are high in quality and can be easily digested, making them ideal for athletes who require efficient protein synthesis for muscle repair and growth.”

Additionally, he notes that “for consumers focused on health and wellness, insect proteins provide a nutrient-dense option.

“They are rich in vitamins and minerals, which can support overall health, and can be a part of diets that focus on weight management due to their high protein and low carbohydrate content.” 

He adds that the potential for insect-derived ingredients in specialised food products is vast and continues to grow, as consumers become more aware of the environmental and health benefits of these sustainable protein sources.

Sustainability and circularity​ 

The new plant will allow Divaks to utilise residue from the mealworm production as organic fertiliser, with the aim of contributing to healthier soils, in line with the company’s circular economy vision. 

Lipnickas explains: “Mealworms contribute to a circular economy – they can be fed on low quality by product from grain processing and turn them into high-quality proteins.”

He adds that “from the sustainability point of view, mealworms have a lower environmental impact than traditional livestock farming. 

“They emit fewer greenhouse gases, use less water and land - they are much more efficient at converting feed into body mass compared to livestock.”

Lipnickas notes as consumers increasingly look for sustainable options, the yellow mealworm production adheres to the broader trend towards sustainability, and sustainable protein sources must be part of the broader conversation.  

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