In the deal, the start-up will benefit from the seafood company’s production capabilities and global reach.
Neither company has disclosed the amount of funding that was involved but the collaboration is the first investment from Thai Union’s newly announced US$30m venture fund aimed at investments in innovative companies that are developing breakthrough technologies in food-tech.
Yet to scale up production to the industrial level or enter the commercial phase, Flying Spark uses larvae from the Mediterranean fruit fly to create protein. That fruit fly, or Ceratitis Capitata, has a seven-day lifespan, during which its body mass multiplies by 250 times. Flying Spark said it cultivates the larvae using a low cost, waste-free processing technology.
Initially focused on testing its protein powder in food applications with the likes of Bimbo in Mexico, Swiss multinational, Nestlé, and other food companies, the startup is also looking to target the fish feed market with its protein product.
Eran Gronich, co-founder and CEO of Flying Spark, told us the startup is running a pilot-scale fish feed trial in partnership with a multinational company in Japan.
“We are into the second phase of that pilot study, apparently the fish like the taste of the feed being tested, they are eating more and growing faster.
“The issue is still the price; we are too expensive for the fish feed industry, in terms of fishmeal replacement, so we are working on formulations, trying to reduce the cost.”
The company’s meal product comprises 70% protein powder, with the startup saying it is rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, and dietary fiber.
The CEO said the product, which has a white color and mild taste for easy incorporation into a variety of food and feed products, has a similar nutrient profile to meal from Black Solider Fly (BSF), the insect variety more commonly used for feed protein applications.
“We can change the nutritional profile of the larvae by modifying their diets.”
Flying Spark intends to source its larvae rearing substrates from sugar and yeast processing by-products, said Gronich.
The funding from Thai Union will allow the start-up to advance its insect growing and processing capabilities in Thailand, said the partners. Flying Spark is intending to build its first production facility in that market, given, said Gronich, the economy stability of the country, access to the rest of Southeast Asia from there, and the scale of insect rearing in Thailand.
The new facility would focus on feed as well food applications, he confirmed.
“We are still raising funds for that build,” said Gronich.
Flying Spark, he continued, had raised almost US$2m to date in investment funds, prior to the Thai Union capital injection.
The startup, which was established in 2015, received its seed investment from Israeli FoodTech incubator, The Kitchen Hub, a part of the Strauss Group, the second-largest food producer in Israel. Prior to that, Flying Spark, took part in the Mass Challenge accelerator program in Boston. “That made all the difference for us,” said Gronich.