Entrepreneur

This M’sian Startup Is Farming Flies And Putting Them In Our Food, Starting With Burgers

You wouldn’t want a fly (or its larvae) in your food, yet that’s exactly what Life Origin is putting into its new food products.

Life Origin is a social enterprise that aims to positively impact the environment through farming Black Soldier Flies (BSF), which are a method of waste management and a source of sustainable protein for animals and humans.

In an interview with Vulcan Post, Zoey Chan of Life Origin shared details on the benefits of BSF agritech and their upcoming BSF beef burger.

A Bug-Eat-Waste World

Founded by Sio Chun Jia and Zoey on January 2, 2019, Life Origin was incorporated as a private limited company on October 31 of the same year.

It all started when Sio Chun Jia was working in Cambodia as Head of Public Affairs for a bank. During this stint abroad, he visited a BSF farm in Vietnam.

There, he realised the positive environmental potential of BSF farming as a form of waste management as well as the huge market opportunity in it.

“Farming insects require 90% lesser land and water compared to any crops or animal farming. Also, production time is very much faster compared to animal farming,” explained Zoey.

Image Credit: Life Origin

But why choose to farm BSF specifically over other insects?

“As an insect species, the BSF is very unique because they are voracious eaters that can convert organic waste into protein in a very short period of time,” she said.

As an agricultural product, BSF have other benefits such as:

  • Being able to grow to maturity in 10-15 days.
  • High resistance to disease.
  • Not spreaders of germs and diseases.
  • Being a non-invasive species in Malaysia.
  • Not a stinging or biting insect.

With its BSF, Life Origin aims to conduct traceable pre-consumer waste recycling, where all the ingredients are collected, traced, and treated right where they are produced.

“Malaysia generates 3,000 metric tonnes (3,000,000kg) of waste daily and most of it is organic waste that can be treated rather than ending up in the landfill.”

Zoey Chan, Life Origin

There’s A Fly In My Burger

Human consumption of insect protein isn’t a new concept, but you might be more familiar with certain ones like crickets and sago grubs.

BSF for human consumption, on the other hand, is uncharted territory in Malaysia. And this is where Zoey sees the huge potential of it.

“With the vigorous growth of the human population compared to the scarcity of land and water, our protein demand sustainability is highly questionable,” she explained.

Enter Life Origin’s first product for human consumption, the Hermy Smoked Beef Burger, a named derived from BSF’s scientific name, Hermitia Illucen.

Image Credit: Life Origin

“Burgers are a widely accepted food not just in the western world but also in Asia,” Zoey explained. “With the help of a food science student at Sunway University, we have developed a burger patty that associates and matches with minced beef.”

The burger patty will contain 30% BSF larvae which reinforce the protein levels and add beneficial amino and lauric acids that aren’t available from beef alone.

Dehydrated BSF also have high levels of protein and fat that make it a good binding material for meat.

Image Credit: Life Origin

From a food production point of view, incorporating BSF larvae into the burger enables Life Origin to produce more burger patties while using less beef.

That being said, I’m sure the thought of eating insects is not very appetising a lot of us, whether it’s disguised as a burger or not.

But Zoey is confident that Gen Z is highly adaptable and that they will see high acceptance levels for entomophagy within this generation, who have been exposed to the principles of sustainability and are willing to accept new things.

Dictionary Time: Entomophagy is the technical term for the practice of eating insects.

“We understand that insect eating is still not a trend in Malaysia. We will be highlighting the food sustainable story behind the larvae and the nutritional facts profile within them,” said Zoey.

“We plan to introduce our food lab or small insect kitchen within universities to promote and market insect products to Gen Z and also introducing snacks and comfort food made from BSF larvae.”

Image Credit: Life Origin Facebook

In fact, Zoey shared that they will be working on BSF ice cream after the introduction of their burger.

Life Origin is looking to collaborate with commercial gourmet burger sellers and aims to make the Hermy burger available at any store, restaurant or bar that is keen to serve them to its customers.

If things go according to plan, we should see these burgers on the market by 2020.

On His Farm, He Had Some Bugs

Despite starting out with a 6-figure investment value as well as sweat equity, Life Origin is still bootstrapping after their initial accelerator investment.

Dictionary Time: Sweat equity is a party’s contribution to a project in the form of labor, as opposed to financial equity such as paying others to perform the task.

They used the money they obtained along with their own capital to purchase equipment for their pilot farm, marketing, and operations.

Currently, Life Origin has more than 500 customers in the reptile food market and have sold to 8 bird nest farmers since starting sales in January 2019.

In 6 months, they had generated around RM6,000 of revenue, which they expect to grow as they expand their channels and market.

Life Origin’s goal is to produce 25 tonnes of larvae a month in the next 2 years, with a stable warehouse production for BSF larvae meals and oils targeting the animal and pet market.

“To farm the insect at large scale requires developing skills in optimum control and management systems. We continue to improve our process and procedure to make sure our production line is strong,” Zoey concluded.

  • You can read more about what we wrote on sustainability here.

Featured Image Credit: Life Origin

 

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