UZWIL, Switzerland — Bühler announced Aug. 28 its plans to construct a rearing and processing facility for yellow mealworms to widen its capabilities in the growing insect industry. The company already operates a black soldier fly processing plant, which was opened in June 2019.

“Our proposition to the market is to support the industry through solutions that produce and process a range of insect species,” said Andreas Aepli, CEO of Bühler Insect Technology Solutions (BITS)­. 

The company will invest in the design, installation and commissioning of a 2,300-sq.-ft. mealworm processing plant in the Netherlands. Bühler said it is collaborating on the project with a former pig farmer turned yellow mealworm producer, who is utilizing his old pig farm as the location for his insect rearing business.

“With this project we will set the bar on modularized mealworm production in an automated and hygienic way,” Aepli said. “Our technological solutions can be readily integrated into existing farms, but larger-scale facilities can also be realized. Once the first plant is completed and producing profitably in the Netherlands, it will offer livestock farmers an alternative option for gaining a sustainable business with attractive margins.”

Expanded capabilities in the insect industry will primarily benefit former pig farmers, Bühler explained, who have fled the market after struggling to break even as grain prices continue to increase. The facility will create jobs for these pig farmers to leverage their skill sets in a more sustainable business model.

Bühler said it is particularly interested in food and agricultural applications. The Tenebrio molitor species of mealworm offers nutritional value through proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibers.

“While the mealworm market has shown significant growth in the last years, the global market size is predicted to even exceed its current growth rate,” Bühler said.

The supplier currently produces protein meal, lipids and fertilizers from black soldier fly larvae.

“The global supply of protein is under pressure due to land erosion, ocean depletion and climate change. Alternative proteins are in high demand and innovative sources such as algae, fungi, single-cell bacteria as well as insects are on the rise,” the company said.

A handful of North American pet food and treat companies have also embraced insects as a viable source of protein in companion animal diets. Canada-based Wilder Harrier released its first complete-and-balanced, hypoallergenic dog food formulated with insect protein, and US-based Jiminy’s also debuted its first insect dog diets over the summer of 2019.

The trend toward insect protein is rooted in sustainability, as manufacturers and consumers become more conscious of the environmental impacts and carbon footprint associated with incorporating higher-quality proteins in pets’ food.

Read more about product development, ingredients and formulation.