AgriFutures Australia, Media Release, 5 July 2021
There’s a growing appetite for alternative protein sources, fuelled by concerns about sustainability, climate change, and resource constraints exacerbated by population growth. With one of the highest global rates of pet ownership, Australians are increasingly looking to sustainable alternatives to nourish their furry friends, too.
Around 48% of all Australians have a dog, with estimates putting the total number at 5.1 million. Worldwide, it’s as many as 470 million. But feeding that many mouths comes at a cost to the planet.
Across the globe, the equivalent of 49 million hectares of agricultural land – more than twice the size of Victoria – is used every year to produce dry dog and cat food. To BuggyBix Founder, Shaun Eislers, the moral challenge of using such vast resources to feed our pets while the global population struggles to feed itself was too great to ignore.
“At a dog park in Sydney in 2018, my wife and I got to talking about food security; how the global population is forecast to grow to nearly 10 billion by 2050, yet we don’t have enough protein to feed everyone. I was looking at the ‘fur babies’, wondering how we could feed them more sustainably: could we feed them insect protein instead?”
The answer was yes. Edible insects are rich in protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. And commercial insect farming is considered to have a low environmental footprint, requiring minimal water, energy, and land resources. “The value proposition not only spoke to pet health, but it also has really compelling environmental and sustainability benefits,” said Shaun.
Collaboration delivers pioneer product with an enviable environmental pawprint
With funding from AgriFutures Australia, the BuggyBix team partnered with Western Sydney University (WSU) to develop BuggyBlend – a nutritionally-optimised pet food product using edible insects as the primary protein source.
BuggyBlend uses mealworms and black soldier fly larvae to deliver a pet food product that is naturally high in protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, essential fatty acids and fibre. “We add all-natural ingredients to ensure a complete nutritional profile and optimal taste, so pets love it. The fibre in BuggyBlend means their stools are well formed and inoffensive to the nose, so owners love the product, too!”
For Shaun, keeping the “environmental pawprint” as low as possible was a key driver. “100% of mealworms and black soldier fly larvae are used in our products, so there is no waste. Our packaging is completely biodegradable, leaving no microplastics behind. Even the labels – completely soluble and using natural dyes – just dissolve into wood pulp.”
For now, BuggyBlend is being developed and tested at the WSU facility. Shaun said, “It’s an amazing opportunity for someone in my position who’s looking for that in-between step before going to contract manufacturers. It unlocks another commercialisation pathway because I don’t have to purchase assets or rent a space in the short term.”
“But contract manufacturing is our immediate goal, producing three product lines for dogs: puppy, every day, and senior; and the same for cats.”
Experience takes the guesswork out of product development and commercialisation
BuggyBix has walked the commercialisation pathway before. Their insect-based dog treat line and BuggyBoost meal toppers are already sold in boutique pet stores across Australia. Shaun calls these their MVPs [Minimum Viable Products]. “We put something into market that no one else had done, so we wanted to do it properly. All our products have undergone complete nutritional and shelf-life lab testing with DTS Laboratories and Massey University (NZ). And we present that info the same way you’d see on a human food packet.”
“Transparency is really important to us, because we’re dealing with ingredients that people don’t really know about. It’s an education piece, too.”
With palatability trials in the works, BuggyBix is looking for commercial partners to assist scaling and distribution of their product range in Australian and international markets. They’ve already attracted commercial interest from major pet food distributors and boutique pet stores in Australia – and international interest from the US, Asia and the Middle East.
“We’re really looking for people who have established connections within the pet food industry. And that could be either a retailer or wholesaler, or a contract manufacturer. It’s someone who has the connectivity that we can leverage to get our products out the door and onto the shelf.”
BuggyBix hopes to normalise insect protein in dog bowls – and one day, on dinner plates
While insects as food is commonplace across Asia and Africa, in Western countries, the ‘yuck factor’ remains. “The novelty aspect is what’s played up in the media – when journos pick the stock image showing fried spiders or mealworms on toast – so that’s what people naturally associate with the insect industry. But that’s not the norm. In reality, it’s an ingredient like a flour that will go into bread or a protein meal that goes into BuggyBlend. It’s not a confronting visual.”
Cracking the Australian pet food market is a smart move – serving as an entrée into this new protein source for Australian consumers. And it’s a lucrative testing ground, with Australians spending almost $4 billion on pet food alone. Market research commissioned by BuggyBix is overwhelmingly positive, showing 8 out of 10 Australians would consider insect-based pet food. “So, whilst it’s so new, so unknown and so different here, we’re seeing a lot of open-mindedness and momentum in what we’re doing.”
Farming insects – the most abundant creatures on Earth – could transform Australian agriculture
AgriFutures believes Australia’s emerging insect industry will have a key role to play in achieving the National Farmers’ Federation vision of a $100 billion farming economy. In 2020, AgriFutures funded the development of a roadmap to help the Australian insect industry reach, or exceed, its target of $10 million per annum in the next five years.
Michael Beer, AgriFutures’ General Manager of Business Development explained, “AgriFutures is optimistic [about the insect protein sector] because insect production provides the opportunity to convert waste materials such as food or animal waste into high protein, high quality products. [Insects] are more efficient converters of ingested food to body weight than traditional livestock like sheep or cattle.”
“The growth of insect farming is underpinned by its potential to address several challenges, such as pressure on natural resources, climate volatility, a growing global population, and increased protein demand. Insects are vital to addressing these challenges because they are the most numerous and successful creatures on Earth.”
Capitalising on the global buzz for insect protein
Right now, most Australian insect farmers are startups or small businesses – many of which are yet to reach a commercial scale. But they are working hard to establish and grow their industry. Shaun explained, “We’ve got all the ducks lined up. We have an industry association. We have growers here. We’ve got people creating products in markets and establishing our social licence to operate. We’re just getting in and doing it.”
“Our partnership with AgriFutures is critical in that sense. It’s about more than BuggyBix. It’s the insect industry being able to say, ‘We’re pushing forward with projects to show that there is value in what we do – a market for our products – and commercialisation is realistic’.”
Michael Beer agreed, “For any industry to thrive and grow it requires leaders and early adopters. A commercial company like BuggyBlends is critical in developing commercial scale operations.”
And as the global buzz around edible insects continues to grow, the future for BuggyBix looks bright.
About this commercial opportunity
growAG. is the gateway to Australia’s agrifood innovation system. It formalises a shared vision to showcase world leading agricultural research, unique technologies and commercialisation opportunities online in one, easy to use location.
growAG. is a collaboration between the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE) and Australia’s 15 Research & Development Corporations, often referred to as the RDCs.