The French company is poised to meet the nutrition challenges posed by a growing population and a climate- and resource-challenged agricultural future.
It is estimated that the population will be almost 10 billion by 2050 and 11 billion by 2100. With this growth comes the insatiable demand for food, which poses significant challenges for agriculture, distribution and resource management. With arable land decreasing at an alarming rate — every minute, 23 hectares are lost worldwide to drought and desertification — it is clear we are heading for an unprecedented food crisis.
To avoid this crisis, the food industry needs to find ways to efficiently produce more nutrient-rich food while protecting the planet’s natural resources and biodiversity — essentially, the opposite of the industrial, livestock-centric agricultural models that dominate our current food system — hence, the explosive growth and potential of the alternative-protein market to revolutionize our food system.
One such promising protein source is insects; startup innovators and global companies alike around the world have been exploring their nutritional and environmental benefits and their potential as a replacement for livestock as a primary protein source — thanks to the amount of food that they can produce relative to their resource use (ex: It takes 100 gallons of water to produce 6 grams of beef protein, 18 grams of chicken protein or 238 grams of insect protein), as well as their high amino acid and micronutrient content.
A major player on that front is Ÿnsect. Founded in France over a decade ago, the company emerged from the collaboration of four dedicated scientists and environmentalists (Antoine Hubert, Jean-Gabriel Levon, Alexis Angot and Fabrice Berro) on a mission to address global food challenges and revolutionize the industry. The company is now a world leader in insect ingredient production — primarily, mealworms — for people, animals and plants.
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“We chose the mealworm — more specifically, the Tenebrio Molitor — because of its high nutritional content of 72 percent protein, which makes it highly digestible,” Ÿnsect CEO Shankar Krishnamoorthy explained to Sustainable Brands®. “Furthermore, mealworm farming has much less impact than traditional farming — it is estimated that a mealworm farm requires 40 times less land and emits 40 times less CO2 emissions than a cattle farm and uses 30 times less water than a swine farm. Last but not least, this insect has a number of qualities that make it easy to raise: It doesn't fly, lives in the dark, is gregarious, and doesn't get sick easily. All these qualities make it an insect of choice.”
Ÿnsect — whose investors include Robert Downey Jr’s Footprint Coalition, and which recently secured an additional $175 million in capital for expansion — raises the mealworms in cutting-edge vertical farms powered by artificial intelligence, computer vision and robotics. Its Ÿnfarm#1 in Amiens, in northern France, is the largest vertical farm in the world and able to collect 1 billion data points per day.
The company processes mealworm larvae into protein powders, oils and concentrates for use in both animal and human nutrition applications. Offerings include AdalbaPro, the world's first range of insect-based protein ingredients — already being used in several baked goods, sports nutrition, pasta, meat and meat alternatives — now available across Europe. And earlier this year the company launched Sprÿng — its first B2B2C brand for pets. Another product is Ÿnfrass — a sanitized fertilizer made from mealworm droppings and the first insect-based fertilizer in the world to obtain marketing approval issued by ANSES (the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety).
Ÿnsect has also created the world’s first genotyping chip, based on the genome of its principal insect ingredient. Launched in June 2023, the chip contains 679,205 SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphism) and covers more than 99 percent of genetic coding regions — with the goal of identifying DNA regions linked to traits of interest including growth performance, reproduction, food conversion and disease resistance. The Axiom® YNS_Mol1 chip will soon be released to the wider scientific community to allow researchers to decipher biological pathways and improve their ability to select novel insect lines with desired traits.
In addition to the transformative potential of its products for global food markets, Ÿnsect achieved B Corp certification in 2021 — thanks to its commitment to social sustainability, as well.
“Since our creation in 2011, impact has been an integral part of our DNA; it's our reason for being,” says EVP and CYO Antoine Hubert. “Ÿnsect was created to respond to the major challenges of our time: to feed the planet and fight against the destruction of biodiversity and climate change.
“More than a new business model, we are proposing a new vision of the company — with the building of fair and equitable relationships with our employees and all our stakeholders at the heart of our priorities,” Hubert added. “Technology alone is no longer enough to make a company innovative: It must also be socially and environmentally responsible.”
In 2022, Ÿnsect signed agreements with leading players Ardent Mills in the US and Corporativo Kosmos in Mexico to consider the joint development of farms in those countries. These agreements mark a turning point in the company’s growth, as well as accelerating the development and consumption of insect-based ingredients worldwide as a meaningful tool for combatting climate change and the food crisis.
Insects are already a regular part of the diets of roughly two billion people in 162 countries. Once more of us squeamish Westerners stop being bugged by the idea; we’ll be off and running toward a healthy, food-secure future for all.