From hurdles to heights: Maltento's journey in insect biotechnology

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Black Soldier Flies © Credit for all photos: Maltento
Black Soldier Flies © Credit for all photos: Maltento

Related tags Insect Aquaculture black soldier fly pet food Protein

What are some of the challenges that South Africa’s Maltento has encountered on its journey from a small-scale operation to a serious player in insect biotechnology?

The Black Soldier Fly (BSF) producer has overcome several hurdles during its growth trajectory, Dean Smorenburg, its chief executive, explained.

“Firstly, locally based power cuts, known as load shedding, have severely impacted our operations by interrupting access to electricity. This has forced us to rely on generators, increasing production costs and posing challenges to maintaining a climate-controlled environment. We are currently in the process of installing solar power systems to mitigate future energy supply issues.

"Additionally, securing a consistent supply of feedstock has been crucial for sustaining production. Economic downturns have at times disrupted upstream processing, affecting the availability of feedstock for our larvae. However, ongoing negotiations with local suppliers and breweries aim to bolster our supply of spent grain.

"As for shipping, inefficiencies and delays at South Africa's ports have resulted in significant increases in shipping charges. This poses a challenge to our business, which prides itself on reliability and timely delivery of products."

Pet food and aqua feed 

Despite those obstacles, the firm is thriving; it has just announced the operational status of a fully equipped laboratory at its breeding facility in Cape Town.

The lab aims to bolster Maltento’s research efforts in insect biotechnology, with the company anticipating that it will reinforce its position as a key player in the functional ingredient and sustainability sectors. The focus area of this laboratory will include pioneering new and innovative pet and aquaculture feed solutions.

This development comes on the heels of a successful validation trial for Maltento’s PALATE+ product in the US market, highlighting the company's ability to compete globally, added Dominic Malan, commercial director at Maltento.

Insect biotechnology is transforming the perception of high-quality protein, reckons Smorenburg, who was speaking about both global and South Africa trends in this respect.

The BSF production process, according to the CEO, supports a scientifically driven, regenerative, and sustainable approach that minimizes environmental impact: “The inherent nutraceutical advantages of BSF larvae, such as chitin, antimicrobial peptides, and medium-chain fatty acids, underscore the need for increased focus and investment to fully realize the potential of insects in today's context."

Sustainable production

Smorenburg also shed light on the company’s commitment to sustainability, outlining its approach to sourcing feed substrates to rear its larvae. 

"At Maltento, we prioritize sustainability by feeding our larvae spent brewers’ grain from local breweries, along with bakery waste, every month. As our larvae grow, they continuously reduce waste from the food and beverage industry.

"Our facility aims to enhance the sustainability of the sector by fostering a green, circular economy. The frass produced by our soldier fly larvae, a valuable by-product of consuming food waste, boasts high nutritional value. This frass serves as an effective composted soil amendment, enriching soil fertility, promoting nutrient cycling, and enhancing soil structure. Furthermore, in a closed-loop system, frass can be utilized in fields cultivating brewery grains, thus creating a sustainable cycle that regenerates soil and fosters healthy grain growth. Currently, our factory diverts approximately 400,000 kg of agro-processing waste and byproducts monthly, with plans to increase this figure to 600,000 kg by September 2024."

Utilizing vertical farming methods, Maltento says its process of converting fly larvae into protein requires up to 95% less ground space compared to conventional meat facilities producing the same protein quantity.

Palatability booster

The company’s PALATE+ product, a hydrolyzed insect protein/digest, serves as a palatability enhancer for the global pet feed and aquaculture industry, maintains Smorenburg.

“PALATE+ PET enhances the feed experience for companion animals by utilizing insects as a key ingredient. In aquaculture, PALATE+ AQUA stimulates a more aggressive feed response from fish. Upon contact with water, the scent of insects from our PALATE+ product triggers fish to attack the pellets more vigorously, resulting in reduced food waste at the bottom of the pond. This innovative approach not only enhances sustainability but also improves the nutritional value and efficiency of feed utilization in both pet and aquaculture settings."

Ingesting spent brewers' grain enriches fly larvae with essential nutrients such as functional proteins, healthy fats, and essential amino acids, said the CEO.

“Once the larvae reach maturity, they are transformed into a nutritious 'protein smoothie.' This versatile product can be seamlessly integrated into distinct types of pet feed solutions for companion animals and the aquaculture sector, ensuring a high-quality and sustainable source of nutrition for a diverse range of animals.”

Ticking the safety box

Asked how Maltento ensures the safety and quality of its insect-derived products for consumption by pets and aquatic animals, providing peace of mind to consumers and regulatory authorities alike, he told us:

"As the sole insect facility in South Africa holding a South African ZA export license, which permits exportation to the EU, we adhere to the highest global standards of food safety within our factory.

"Our food safety protocols undergo annual audits by the South African State Veterinary Services to guarantee compliance. Furthermore, our products submit to rigorous testing by third-party laboratories to verify their freedom from contaminants and microbes.”

Dean Smorenburg and Dominic Malan
Dean Smorenburg, CEO, and Dominic Malan, commercial director, Maltento.

Trout trials

The company has been conducting trial work related to aqua feed and indicative findings from a recent proteomics study suggest that insect derivatives offer multifaceted benefits beyond mere palatability and growth support, said Smorenburg.

"Collaborating with Southern Africa’s largest rainbow trout producers in commercial trials has yielded promising results, validating the potential of our products.”

Maltento anticipates sharing these reports publicly in the coming weeks.

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