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Innovafeed opens insect innovation center in Decatur, Illinois

This is the first step in the company's industrial expansion to North America, which aims to scale up production and commercialization of insect protein in the U.S.

2 Lisa Selfie December 2020 Headshot
Maye Walraven, U.S. general manager at Innovafeed, displays one of the six insect cages at the recently opened North American Insect Innovation Center (NAIIC), on April 18.
Maye Walraven, U.S. general manager at Innovafeed, displays one of the six insect cages at the recently opened North American Insect Innovation Center (NAIIC), on April 18.
Lisa Cleaver

The NAIIC is Innovafeed's first step to scale up production and commercialization of insect protein in the U.S.The NAIIC is Innovafeed's first step to scale up production and commercialization of insect protein in the U.S.InnovafeedOn April 18, Innovafeed opened the doors to its North American Insect Innovation Center (NAIIC) in Decatur, Illinois, to showcase its pilot plant and partnership with ADM. Special guests at the event included state and local dignitaries, high-ranking company officials and stakeholders, as well as members of the community and press.

A global leader in the production of insect ingredients for animal feed, pet food and plant nutrition, Innovafeed noted this pilot plant is the first step in the French agtech’s industrial expansion to North America and aims to scale up production and commercialization of insect protein in the U.S.

The pilot plant is 10,000 square meters  (about 100,000 square feet) and has 10 employees. Said to be open by 2026, the scaled-up production facility, the design of which is still being finalized, will be about 100,000 square meters (1 million square feet) and employ up to 300 people.

"We're introducing new technology to a new geography," explained Maye Walraven, U.S. general manager for Innovafeed. "This pilot plant will help us in our R&D journey to the large-scale manufacturing facility."

Innovafeed breeds Hermetia illucens, also known as black soldier flies, in state-of-the-art indoor farms, while efficiently repurposing agricultural byproducts from its strategic partner, ADM, in a zero-waste framework. This innovative process yields insect meal, oil and soil amendment, which Innovafeed markets under Hilucia.

"As we all know, the key trends in pet food are premiumization, humanization and sustainability," Jorge Martinez, president of pet nutrition for ADM, told Petfood Industry. "Consumers are looking for sustainable solutions. As the pet food market grows, the demand for protein grows -- therefore the demand for sustainability grows. Our partnership with Innovafeed allows us to bring that alternative sustainable protein to those customers already searching for those solutions."

Martinez noted large industry players such as NestlĂ© Purina and Mars Petcare are already exploring these options, and the NAIIC will be able to help them answer those alternative insect protein questions.

ADM and Innovafeed have an exclusive distributorship agreement for the pet food industry in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.ADM and Innovafeed have an exclusive distributorship agreement for the pet food industry in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.Innovafeed

Growing pet food market needs alternative proteins

Since 2023, the company in partnership with ADM, has commercialized Hilucia insect ingredients for the pet food market in North America. As part of this effort, ADM has invested in a comprehensive R&D study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with results to be released later this year demonstrating the nutritional and health benefits of its ingredients, said Chris Cuddy, ADM senior vice president and president of the company’s Carbohydrate Solutions business. Future opportunities with other types of animal feed are also being explored as part of the comprehensive partnership between the two companies.

Chris Cuddy speaks at the inauguration of Innovafeed's NAIIC on April 18.Chris Cuddy speaks at the inauguration of Innovafeed's NAIIC on April 18.Innovafeed"Sustainability and food production is a growing consumer demand worldwide," he said. "And certainly pet owners are no different. They expect healthy and responsibly sourced products for their whole family."

Insect farming represents a new and sustainable solution, said Cuddy. Insect-based ingredients provide high-quality nutritional content with a smaller carbon footprint and land requirements. According to Cuddy, ADM's proprietary consumer insights indicate consumers are becoming more acceptable to use an alternative protein,  with 42% of pet owners saying they are more likely to feed their pet with insect protein than other types of alternatives.

“This project highlights our commitment to responsible and sustainable sourcing," Cuddy said. "Our collaboration is a great example of how we are constantly seeking innovative solutions to meet the growing demand for alternative protein sources in animal and pet products.

"By expanding our value chain and offering collaboration opportunities to leading, innovative partners, we are positioning ADM as the provider of choice for responsible, sustainable materials across the food, beverage, feed, fuel, consumer product and industrial spaces," he added. "We are proud to be a part of this job-creating project and look forward to the positive impact it will have on our communities."

NAIIC is a milestone in Innovafeed’s expansion in North America

The choice of Decatur, Illinois, is not coincidental, noted ClĂ©ment Ray, CEO of Innovafeed. Located in the heart of the corn belt adjacent to ADM’s North American headquarters and the world’s largest corn mill operations, with hundreds of processing plants across multiple states, the region offers high potential for multiple sites to be deployed in the future. The broader area is also a historical innovation hub for the agroindustry, making it a strategic location for Innovafeed to serve its core markets, said Ray.

“We chose Decatur for our first U.S. operation because of its location in the heart of the Midwest corn belt and its proximity to our partner ADM and other agribusiness leaders," said Ray. "ADM’s corn byproducts are a rich resource that we will leverage to fuel our black soldier fly production. At the same time, this circular process will present a tangible solution to contribute to our mission and the U.S. Department of Energy’s objectives of decarbonizing the industrial sector."

A pipeline will connect the plant to the ADM’s corn processing wet mill, allowing it to directly recover up to 300,000 tons per year of byproducts. These byproducts will be transformed into high-quality insect ingredients producing up to 60,000 metric tons of animal feed protein derived from Hermetia illucens. Additionally, it will generate 20,000 metric tons of oils for poultry and swine rations each year, along with 400,000 metric tons of soil amendment. In Decatur, the planned large-scale manufacturing facility will replicate an industrial symbiosis model pioneered by Innovafeed in France. A comprehensive Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is still to be conducted at the NAIIC.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, center, and Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe (third from left) helped cut the ribbon on April 18.Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, center, and Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe (third from left) helped cut the ribbon on April 18.Innovafeed

The path forward begins in Decatur

Innovafeed said this pilot plant is proudly part of a local ecosystem of industrial projects in Decatur that are poised to create future-focused jobs and help solidify the region as a catalyst for local economic growth and innovation.

“As the project expands, we believe Innovafeed can benefit from a strongly qualified local workforce, as well as contribute to developing new skills specific to our innovative industry," said Walraven. "Furthermore, we envision Decatur as a promising hub for innovation with many opportunities for collaboration between Innovafeed and the neighboring projects that have recently been announced in the area."

Founded in 2016, Innovafeed currently operates two industrial plants in northern France, producing insect protein for animal and pet nutrition. To date, Innovafeed has secured more than $1 billion in commercial contracts for its fly protein products for the aquaculture, pet food and poultry feed markets and has introduced insect ingredients as a viable, affordable, and sustainable source of animal and pet food, which is now recognized and embraced by both agribusiness leaders and environmental stewards alike. By integrating sustainable and innovative solutions, Innovafeed aims to play a pivotal role in mitigating the environmental impact of the animal and pet agribusiness sector.

Innovafeed also announced it is now a Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC) accredited company in the pet segment, effective from February 2024. Additionally, the company has been honored with the Most Innovative Company 2024 award by the prestigious Fast Company Prize. These milestones once again underscore Innovafeed’s international expansion and its commitment to sustainability and innovation.

“Innovative, exciting new approaches to agricultural and environmental challenges are what Illinois is all about, from the invention of the farm silo to global leaders like Innovafeed,” said Illinois Governor JB Pritzker. “This expansion, perfectly situated in Illinois’s rich corn country, demonstrates a commitment to Illinois as a place to grow and continue to innovate, and I’m glad to welcome Innovafeed to Illinois.”

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