Insect protein is fast becoming the go-to meat alternative – channelling the aggressive growth of the startup that was founded in 2020 to create sustainable, traceable ingredients from the Tenebrio molitor (yellow mealworm).
“Yellow mealworm is an exceptional protein source, combining the nutritional quality of beef with the sustainability credentials of many plant-based alternatives,” said Kęstutis Lipnickas, Divaks’ cofounder and CEO.
The larval form of the mealworm beetle, a species of darkling beetle, the yellow mealworm provides a complete protein source with all the essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Its nutritional values and functional properties unlock a wealth of opportunities in many food categories, including meat alternatives (obviously), snacks, sports nutrition and confectionery.
The biggest plus, though, is environmental, as insect farming generates substantially lower greenhouse gas emissions and requires less land and water. Divaks takes this further, by using low-value sidestreams from local food producers and the agri-industry to create products for the pet industry.
“Our focus from day one has been on using these insects to create added value ingredients, solutions, and specialties for the food industry,” said Lipnickas.
“With our unique, vertically integrated technology, we can provide high-quality insect protein products that are tailored to the demands of both clients and consumers.”
Novel Food authorisation
Divaks works closely with Lithuanian universities and academic institutions to develop its ingredients and has already been involved in initial rearing and breeding trials.
The €3m boost will be used to complete its own manufacturing facility in Vilnius, which will allow it to product its first samples, along with the capacity to scale up.
Additionally, funds will be used to secure Novel Food authorisation with the European Commission. The company recently signed a Novel Food Dossier (NFD) licensing agreement with insect pioneers Protix, which covers whole dried mealworms and whole mealworm powder. As a next step, Divaks has begun preparing additional NFDs for a range of specialist ingredients, including defatted insect protein and soluble insect protein concentrate.
Its inhouse team will carry out further R&D with academic institutions – specifically to identify the most efficient rearing and breeding conditions, along with yellow mealworm processing and premium ingredient creation.
“We’re delighted to have raised the funds we need to take our project to the next level,” said Lipnickas.
“The €3 million will allow us to continue our company’s growth while building an insect industry hub together with local and international academic institutions, partners, and suppliers.”
Largest vertically integrated insect protein business in the Baltics
Divaks is now seeking to raise up to €50m through its Series A funding round, which is planned to close in Q1/Q2 2023.
Its ambition is to open a fully automated, vertically integrated insect rearing and processing facility, which would be one of the largest in the Baltic States. The company has already acquired a land plot and is working with one of the leading turn-key solution providers on plant design, with an intended launch date of mid-2024.
“Amid significant concern around sustainability and the disruption to food supply chains, it’s clear that insect protein has vast scope for growth,” said Audrius Grušnis, Divaks’ cofounder and chairman.
“Along with renewable energy and electric cars, we see it as one of the industries with the greatest potential over the coming 10 to 15 years. We’re building a vertically integrated insect protein business that can meet demand by delivering a wide array of high-quality, added value ingredients.”
Lipnickas added, “Insect meal will become an important commodity in the very near future and we see particularly high potential in the food industry.
“While the quality requirements and complexity are higher than in the feed industry, the possible returns are higher, too. Many of those in our core team have backgrounds in the food industry, giving us the expertise we need to play a vital role in this fast-growing sector.”