The funding was secured through an Irish state backed employment and investment incentive scheme (EIIS), that allows investors to claim relief on investments in early-stage companies and brings funding to date in BII to €30m, said the Monaghan-based company.
BII is backed by the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organization and Norwegian partner, Biomarine Science Technology. The company is headed up by Jason Whooley, the former chief executive of Ireland’s seafood agency, Bord Iascaigh Mhara.
“BII was founded in 2014. I joined towards the end of this year. We are a company that is owned by large fishing interests out of Killybegs, which is the largest fishing port in Ireland. We take underutilized raw material, MSC approved blue whiting, and we put it through a system of enzymatic hydrolysis; in our marine biorefinery we produce various protein and calcium fractions.
“We leveraged the experience of our Norwegian partners, who are minority shareholders in the business, to introduce the concept to Ireland. Now we have built upon that, we are up and running and progressing well in the market,” said the CEO.
In terms of raw material supply, the company can tap into the 1.3m tons of blue whiting available on an annual basis off the coast of Ireland. “Blue whiting is a strong-tasting pelagic fish, low in oil and it is not suited to human consumption in this jurisdiction.”
BII has a processing facility in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan that currently has capacity for 12,500 tons of fish. Operating now at about 50%, the new funding will be used as working capital to boost output.
“The Castleblayney facility is a human-grade biorefinery site, the only one of its kind in Europe. We started producing there in late 2017, and we continue to ramp up production. In 2021, we see ourselves at full capacity in that plant,” Whooley told us.
The Irish company has also secured planning permission for a second plant in Killybegs. The date for commissioning of that facility is still not determined but the CEO said the latest funding would help crystallize that decision.
“As we scale into the market and as we prove the market appetite, we will begin plans in due course to build the factory in Killybegs. We own a very large site there, near the port and, given the volume of landings in Killybegs port, but also off the coast of Ireland, we are very excited to have that opportunity.”
BII is supplying fish protein hydrolysates, lipids, and calcium to the human nutrition, functional foods, nutraceuticals, pet food, and animal feed sectors. “We produce a range of protein fractions from 35% up to 90% and depending on the customer requirements we have products available for various segments in different markets.”
The human nutrition and pet food sectors remain attractive segments in terms of margins. However, the company is looking to target the farmed shrimp and fish sectors in Southeast Asia with its protein hydrolysates, which its says have better digestibility than traditional fishmeal sources. It has been developing relationships with a range of customers involved in aquaculture in that part of the world. “It is a significant opportunity and we are seeing a lot of traction. Hopefully as Covid-19 eases, our ability to get out and meet the [Asian shrimp and farmed fish] customers will increase.”
In terms of its process, the CEO said BII is borrowing heavily from the dairy industry in Ireland.
“What we are doing, in terms of taking an underutilized raw material and [running it through a system of enzymatic hydrolysis], is very similar to what the Irish dairy sector did maybe 20 or 30 years ago with whey, and, obviously, whey has become the driving force of a lot of the dairy co-ops and PLCs in Ireland. We are looking to understand and replicate that journey.”
Whooley said the fact that its raw material is sustainable and local enables BII to offer supply chain security to its customers – an additional asset in a post-Covid-19 world. “We have access to raw material that is, in my view, second to none, and that factor is going to give us a strong position as a company moving forward.”