Meet the Sustainability Leader: Product Innovation – Nutreco and Skretting
With entries now open for edie's Sustainability Leaders Awards 2020, this new feature series showcases the achievements of the 2019 winners and reveals their secrets to success. Up next: The winner of our Sustainability Product Innovation of the Year award, Nutreco and Skretting.
The UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation estimates that food production will need to increase by 70% to match population growth by 2050, when the world’s population is predicted to surpass 9.5 billion people.
In a bid to meet this increased demand for food in a sustainable way, Dutch animal nutrition company Nutreco has spent several years developing the world’s first industrial-grade salmon feed to be produced without fishmeal – a commercial product made from fish and shellfish which are deemed unfit for human consumption.
The majority of industrial fish feeds currently comprise of between 5% and 30% fishmeal – down from 50% in the 1980s – with the product traditionally being used due to its high protein and fat content. But with the UN estimating that 70% of the world’s fisheries are either “fully exploited’, “overexploited” or “significantly depleted”, the pressure is now on the aquaculture industry to find a more sustainable form of nutrition – leaving fishery stocks for human consumption rather than downcycling them.
Nutreco and Skretting have been working to identify key micronutrients in fishmeal and the role they play in salmon growth and health. After devoting significant resources to this research, the firm was able to develop a nutrient profile for fishmeal and to replicate this profile using 100% plant-based ingredients. The result was a fishmeal-free product called Microbalance FLX, which is made from a mixture of six plant-based ingredients including seaweed and cornmeal. The proportions in which each ingredient are used can be altered, so long as the product’s nutrition profile is kept the same – giving aquaculture firms the flexibility to account for ingredient prices or scarcities. The innovative product is the result of almost three decades of R&D at the Skretting Aquaculture Research Centre.
Nutreco has been working to perfect the product’s formula since the early 2000s and, last year, scaled up its manufacturing in order to feed seven million salmonids across Europe and South America.
At the same time, the company partnered with Scottish seafood firm Marine Harvest to carry out a benchmarking study and ensure the feed was an efficient way to feed large stocks of farmed fish. During the study, half the fishery’s salmonids were fed with Microbalance FLX, while the other half were given Nutreco’s 5% fishmeal blend. At the end of the study, Marine Harvest’s researchers found no difference in salmon growth, size and feed conversion or in the final product quality, fat content and pigmentation. Nutreco has always been transparent with the results of its new product testing, and regularly publishes results from studies such as this in its customer magazines.
Companies to have used the product so far have reported cost savings via reduced food bills, in addition to carbon savings throughout the lifecycle of the innovative feed and the fish themselves.
Going forward, Nutreco estimates that the Microbalance FLX principles could be applied to all fish feed used within the salmon industry, which currently represents 4.8% of the world’s total aquaculture production.
The company is additionally carrying out tests to ascertain whether the innovative feed concept could be adapted and extended to cover shrimp, which accounts for a further 7.2% of global aquaculture output. With approximately 30% of a typical shrimp diet comprising of fishmeal, there is enormous potential to make a positive impact in this area.
Nutreco claims that salmon and shrimp farmers will easily be able to switch to Microbalance FLX without any interruptions, as the product can be distributed in the same way and in the same quantities as traditional, fishmeal-based feeds. Nonetheless, its parent company Skretting has pledged to provide technical expertise and tools to customers struggling to make the transition for any reason.
As corporate sustainability director at Nutreco, Jose Villalon is well versed in the increasingly strict requirements demanded of aquaculture on a global scale and the implications of breakthroughs such as Microbalance FLX, given his background at WWF and his membership to the Supervisory Board of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC).
Given the potential for this product to significantly lower the carbon emissions associated with fishmeal sourcing while improving ocean biodiversity and preventing overfishing, the judging panel was particularly impressed with the scalability of this innovation. If implemented at scale, the innovation could remove fishmeal from two of the seafood farming practices which currently use the most fishmeal – salmon and shrimp – thus making the global food system more sustainable.
edie’s judging panel also noted that the launch of the innovative feed and the upscaling of its production will serve to show other companies in the animal feed and seafood sectors that sustainability and profitability can be aligned.
“It’s [been] a long time coming to demonstrate how a carnivorous salmon fish can eat a sustainable feed to feed you, the consumer” Nutreco’s Villalon told edie.
What the judges said: “The product developed by Nutreco and Skretting deals with wider food systems issues, avoiding high-impact nutrition sources and addressing the pressing issue of over-fishing. The judges are sure this initiative will have a scalable impact, and for that reason decided to give it the recognition it deserves.”
edie’s 2020 Sustainability Leaders Awards
Now entering their 13th year for 2020, the RSA-accredited Sustainability Leaders Awards are sure to be one of the biggest nights of the year in the sustainability and energy space, with some exciting new categories added to recognise excellence across the spectrum of sustainable business.
The 2020 Sustainability Leaders are now OPEN for entries. The entry deadline is Friday 27 September 2019. The Awards will then take place on the night of 5 February 2020 at the Park Plaza London, Westminster.