Innovation chief on investing in bugs and portfolio diversification past seafood

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Thai fish giant Thai Union has made multiple investments in alternative protein companies recently, particularly insect and vegetable protein, reflecting its strong intention to expand into other types of protein beyond its main seafood specialties.

“Our strength here at Thai Union has always been protein, especially seafood protein, but we’ve seen that we now need to be able to expand our reach beyond seafood,” said Dr. Tunyawat Kasemsuwan, Group Director for Global Innovation at Thai Union, told FoodNavigator -Asia.

“This is why we looked closely at the alternative protein space to fully understand the opportunity. We have also noticed great synergies with our existing core products in this area. If you

“For example, our initial interest began with insect protein. We pondered the potential of making an insect protein-based tuna that could be the future of the company – and we still think insect protein is important [to the food system]”

To date, the Thai Union has made several investments in companies that specialize in insect protein products. Her first investment in the space was Flying SpArk, which specializes in making food ingredients like powders and oils from Mediterranean fruit fly larvae, and more recently Manna Foods and its darkening bug-based flour.

“With Flying SpArk, we believe the protein here can meet consumer food needs in terms of protein, has a low carbon footprint, is easy to populate, and grows very quickly in just six to seven days – especially Es there is synergy for us to use this in food or feed applications and the by-products can also be used for cosmetic applications, “said Dr. Kasemsuwan.

“As for Manna Foods, we liked that the dark beetle protein is really good in terms of protein quality and is also moving in a good direction as it is already [some] Proof of concept related to sports nutrition in the US – which is also an area of ​​interest since sports nutrition is a very large market in the US. “

Dr. Kasemsuwan also said the company invested heavily in insect-based and plant-based protein to help maintain portfolio diversity.

“Today there is vegetable protein, so we can introduce products faster. [plus this is what consumers want] That’s why we launched herbal products to meet consumer demand. And for insect protein, it’s important to have high protein levels to feed humans as part of the food system, ”he said.

“We see that these alternative protein sources are important to offer variety, to manage our product portfolio not only in terms of product diversity, but also to manage risks and costs in the long term.”

Cell-based in the long termIf you

In addition to plant-based protein and insect protein, Thai Union has also shown great interest in cell-based protein as it is believed that the value of this industry is likely to increase over time.

“Thai Union is definitely also interested in cell-cultured protein. I think in about three years this will be a major tool to target protein and protein [food system] Problems, “said Dr. Kasemsuwan.

“In that space, we invested in BlueNalu, California, a cell-based seafood company, and Visvire’s New Protein, a fund that covers multiple investments, including Israel’s Aleph Farms, which specializes in cell-based beef.”

All of the Thai Union’s investments in alternative protein were made under its Venture Fund, for which the company initially allocated $ 30 million to invest in entrepreneurial businesses in alternative protein, functional nutrition, and value chain technology – another of its most recent major projects into Singapore-based GI-lowering technology company Alchemy FoodTech.

Make a differenceIf you

Regardless of the type of alternative protein or technology used, Dr. Kasemsuwan’s goal is to provide consumers with better food choices.

“When it comes to insect-based products, the high protein content is of course the key to better food options [and the sustainability benefits]So we are now choosing the types of insects and companies that we want to strategically and carefully invest in because there are so many insects and different companies, ”he said.

“For plant-based products, which we have already introduced worldwide, we don’t just want to bring our product structure as close as possible to animal products, e. B. steaks instead of patties but these also improve health.

“There are a lot of people who complain about ingredients in plant-based meat like E numbers, additives, salt, etc. That is why we are continuing to research how we can make our plant-based products as good as a clean label in the future with less highly processed ingredients.

“All in all, our goal with alternative protein products is to be as healthy as possible and as high in protein as possible to help consumers.”