by Gregoire Belegaud, InnovaFeed, France

Insect farming has recently gained significant attention, as insects continue to broaden our understanding of natural and sustainable animal feed. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of an entire value chain, a new landmark has been achieved: for the first time, consumers can eat chicken whose diets were enriched with insect oil. This is an exciting breakthrough as insect oil products reduce the environmental impacts of animal husbandry. InnovaFeed's insect oil, SaniNovaTM, has indeed achieved an 80 percent lower carbon footprint than imported soybean oil. The launch of this new insect-fed value chain demonstrates, once again, the full potential of the insect sector.

Demonstrated zootechnical performance and improved animal welfare

Between March and June, a batch of chickens raised in France received a feed enriched with InnovaFeed's insect oil, SaniNovaTM. This world premiere confirmed the results of previous trials done by InnovaFeed at a smaller scale. Chickens were raised in Label Rouge conditions (free range for 85 days) with the exception of insect oil replacing 100 percent of soya-based oil in the diet. Zootechnical performance was closely monitored during the entire rearing period.

Insects are a natural part of poultry diets, and this is reflected in the performance of the animals fed enriched diets. Regarding animal husbandry, insect oil had a positive impact on animal welfare: lower levels of stress response were measured. Chickens were calmer, less afraid of human contact and pecking between individuals was reduced. All of this combined meant their plumage was considered by farmers to be more beautiful, softer and fuller.

More generally, poultry demonstrated a strong appetence to the product and positive trends in regard to feed conversion ratio (FCR). This allows for a steady weight growth to meet the farmers' high standards. Chicken fed with insect-enriched feed also happen to have higher litter quality, making it both drier and easier to crumble.

Based on these results, a request has been made to include insect oil from black soldier fly larvae in Label Rouge specifications.

Insect oil: A natural and sustainable alternative to vegetable oils

Insects can be bred sustainably, the process being both zero-waste (the insect is used entirely) and circular (insect bodies are used as organic fertiliser for the agricultural by-products that will feed the larvae). Yet, InnovaFeed has developed an even greener process, based on co-localisation of its production facility with existing industrial players. The biotech company thus valorises co-products of a local starch manufacturer to feed its larvae and captures waste energy from a nearby renewable power plant. Thanks to this unique industrial symbiosis model, the company is able to raise its insects (which like warm temperatures) at a very low environmental cost, reducing the CO2 footprint of insect oil by 80 percent, compared to vegetable oils.

In the wild, insects make up to 50 percent of a standard poultry diet, meeting their nutritional needs. Replacing vegetable oil with insect oil in poultry diets, therefore, constitutes as both a natural and sustainable choice.

'By upcycling local cereal co-products and repurposing insect waste as an organic fertiliser, InnovaFeed's products truly have a positive environmental impact,' says Clement Ray, Chief Executive Officer at InnovaFeed. 'We're also able to have a positive impact on climate change by saving 57,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions-per-year with each 10,000-tonne production unit by feeding insect meal to animals. That is equivalent to travelling 5,800 times around the Earth.'

From farm to fork: Consumer-driven sustainability

The commercialisation of insect-fed chicken, a world premiere, results from the close collaboration of the entire value chain, from farm to fork. Players have combined their know-how and expertise to provide consumers with natural and sustainable poultry, whose traceability is 100 percent secured.

According to a Kantar consumer survey, insect-fed chickens answer a customer's needs, as 87 percent of consumers want to reduce the environmental impact of their food.

The entire value chain worked together to offer and explain this pioneering product to the end-consumer. The feed formulator Nealia, an expert in animal nutrition, has developed an innovative recipe in which soybean oil is replaced by insect oil. These free-range chickens were then raised at a farm in Champagne, France and processed by Les Eleveurs de la Champagne. Finally, Auchan renewed its commitment to sustainable and natural value chains, leveraging insects as feed. This was a successful bet, as they are the first to bring to market these insect-fed chickens. All these players have worked together in order to feed tomorrow's world.

By highlighting the insect-based origins of these products through clear and informative labelling, this value chain approach empowers customers to make an informed decision about the impact that their diets have on the planet. Indeed, the launch of insect-fed poultry has been supported by a strong communication in stores and online, in order to emphasise insect oil benefits for consumers: primarily that of naturality and sustainability. The final result of this operation is a consumer, surprised but interested by the product.

It is not the first time that InnovaFeed's new value chains are highlighted; they had already launched insect-fed trout in 2018 at Auchan. The objective for the poultry sector is to convert this new value chain into a sustainable industry by the end of the year.

By placing innovation at the heart of modern food systems and offering SaniNovaTM, its insect-based product, InnovaFeed offers a clear and relatable solution to drive local, sustainable, ethical and high-quality products to the market, in line with customer needs.

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