Nutreco’s fund for alternative protein start-ups

Feeding the world’s growing population will require alternative proteins as well as more sustainable animal agriculture – which is why Dutch animal nutrition and aquafeed firm Nutreco has set up a €20m fund for alternative protein start-ups.

Alternative proteins

The fund is intended for investment in three areas concerning alternative proteins: plant-based protein; fermentation and biotechnology involving yeast, bacteria or fungi; and cellular agriculture, meaning lab-grown meat, milk, egg and fish from stem cells. But the company is clear that sustainable animal agriculture will be a major part of the equation when it comes to food security too.

Sustainable farming

“We need to focus all our resources and technology on sustainable farming,” said Laurent Genet, Nutreco’s Chief Strategy Officer. “We cannot pretend that the food industry is on the right track to produce enough food in quantity and quality for ten billion people. The sustainability part is not negotiable.”

Nutreco is a particularly big player in aquafeed, feeding nearly one in three of the world’s salmon, and Genet notes that while alternative proteins will become an increasingly important part of a sustainable food supply, feeding fish and other animals can also be done sustainably, meaning that the environmental impact of any particular protein source is not clear cut. “We are supplying 100,000 tonnes of feed for salmon every year which is vegetarian,” he said. “Salmon feed on fish, but we use our knowledge about animal nutrition to feed healthy salmon based on plant sources.”

Attracting start-ups

The company’s fund aims to attract start-ups that have technological know-how and innovation that could also benefit Nutreco. “We don’t necessarily expect a return on investment but a return on innovation and sharing,” Genet said. “It has been moving very quickly and we already have a pipeline. We should be in position to materialise a few investments by the end of next year.”

While Nutreco’s involvement is focused on broadening its knowledge of protein-related technologies, other investors are more focused on the financial side, creating a mutually beneficial environment for everyone involved. “We are relevant for each other,” said Genet. “If you have around the table investors and people like us, we are technologically relevant so we can de-risk the company, and they can grow the company.”

Investing in the future

Nutreco remains an animal feed company at its core, but Genet said its main purpose is feeding people, albeit at one remove. “We are ready to invest in the future,” he said. “We are not worried about animal farming – it is here to stay – but it’s about using all the technology that will be relevant.”