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Customers not biting? F3 winners show value of persistence

Two of this year’s F3 fish-free feed challenge say they found success with products they had tried to market in the past.

Freshwater Fish Carp (cyprinus Carpio) In The Beautiful Clean Po
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2 of this year’s F3 fish-free feed challenge found success with products they tried to market in the past

While the world of entrepreneurship tends to emphasize innovation, the winners of this year’s F3 fish-free feed challenge suggest perseverance also plays a key role in bringing new products to market.

Two of this year’s three winners scored the top spot with products they developed in the past, only to encounter limited market opportunities. The F3 challenge, which aims to encourage the adoption of fish-free aquafeed, awards its grand prizes to the feed manufacturer who sells the most qualifying feed during the contest period.

“The industry as a whole wants to go in this direction,” said Paul Cramer, vice president and general manager of Star Milling Co., which won this year’s category for salmonid and trout feed. “The industry as a whole sees the challenge and they all know that there needs to be some better, sustainable way of producing aquaculture so that we can help feed the world. Because the population is growing and income levels are changing enough in the world that more and more people want higher quality sources of protein, and fish gives them that. So it’s a challenge of how do you produce more with less.”

Jiangsu Fuhai Biotech Co. Ltd., which won in the other carnivorous fish species category, originally developed their winning largemouth bass feed in 2018, according to CEO Zhijun Hu. The enzyme-treated, soybean-based protein it used was originally intended for use in piglet feed — and is still used as such to this day, Hu said. In time, the company decided to test its feed in aquaculture as well.

Selling a plant-based protein remains a challenge, Hu said, in part because of persistent attitude in aquaculture that plant-based products cannot match the performance of fish meal. They also encountered some challenges with the appearance of their product, he said, which is less dark than conventional feeds.

Even so, the results of the contents have left Jiangsu Fuhai Biotech feeling encouraged, Hu said.

“We have customers now so we will keep selling these products,” he said in an email. “Also we are thinking of working with other feed mills in the world to promote the new feed. One day we may set up a factory in the U.S.”

Star Milling Co. had a similar experience in the contest, which it won using a feed product that contained a blend of soy concentrate and nut proteins — a concept the company pioneered 10 years ago at the prompting of a customer.

“A lot of larger companies make fish-free feeds, but they’re still based on an animal protein source,” Cramer said. “This one is unique enough that a lot of larger producers won’t make the diet because the market isn’t there on a mass scale.”

However, the results of the contest showed that there is a demand for vegetarian fish feed, and that producers are interested in novel fish-free solutions, Cramer said.

One challenge remains for Star Milling’s product, Cramer said: Because it uses unconventional proteins that are harder to come by, the price tends to be higher than other feed products. But he believes the industry has an opportunity to change that.

“If there are enough dollars invested into it, you can bring the overall cost down,” he said. “The industry will find ways to bring the cost down.”

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