Move over veggie burgers, Insect-based pet food is the new focus in reducing the use of animal proteins to feed the world, whether you have two or four legs.
Sydney entrepreneur Sean Islers was once a banker before launching his startup BuggyBix, a mix of climate and agricultural technology, using insects — black soldier fly lavender — as a primary protein in pet food.
“I sat with my wife at the local dog park, and it occurred to me that the rapidly growing pet market and the trend towards feeding pets with meat proteins are exacerbating the stress on our diet,” he said.
“By digging deeper, I learned the appropriate nutritional qualities and the beneficial environmental suggestion that edible insects can make. They are a great source of protein, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals which make them an excellent pet food.”
Black soldier flies exist globally and are increasingly used in animal feed and waste recycling – last year Melbourne startup Bardee raised $5 million in seed capital to turn food waste into protein and insect fertilizer.
They are harmless to humans and are not considered pests or vectors of disease and are a protein-rich food source.
When Eislers set out to found BuggyBix five years ago, he commissioned independent market research to see how the idea would apply to pet owners, and in recent years he’s noticed a shift in favor of his idea. It also hired experts at Western Sydney University (WSU) to analyze different feed substrates and their effects on the nutritional profile of black soldier fly and mealworms to shape the design of BuggyBix dry food lines for dogs and cats.
“We were fortunate that the Department of Food Science at Washington State University is one of the most well-equipped laboratories in Australia,” she said.
“Black soldier fly larvae have beneficial nutritional properties and are hypoallergenic, which means they are great for pets who may be allergic to conventional proteins such as beef, pork or lamb.”
Eislers also focused on environmental benefits.
“For example, depending on production technologies, for every kilogram of protein, black soldier fly larvae require only four square meters of land, compared to about 50 square meters for poultry,” he said.
They also produce lower levels of greenhouse gases and use about one-sixth of the water.
His next step was to tackle the show in an emerging sector. BuggyBix is also in a race with Swedish food tech startup Petgood, which is looking to launch its insect-based pet food group in Australia at the end of this year, working with a supplier based in WA.
“The industry has only now reached a point where a stable supply at a commodity price point is available,” Islers said.
And now he’s working with AgriFutures GrowAG to help him find BuggyBix investors, wholesalers and distributors.
“In the short term, we are focusing on local distribution opportunities with major pet food retailers and online channels,” he said.
“We are also exploring options to expand distribution of BuggyBix products into Southeast Asian markets. The GrowAG team continues to provide invaluable support, ensuring our work is showcased and shared with curated audiences.”