Thai food giant backs Israeli start-up producing protein from fly larvae

The seafood company Thai Union Group, the world's largest producer of canned tuna products, has committed an initial $30 million to the venture fund.

Thai Union Group CEO Thiraphong Chansiri (photo credit: PR/THAI UNION GROUP)
Thai Union Group CEO Thiraphong Chansiri
(photo credit: PR/THAI UNION GROUP)
Expanding its hunt for breakthrough food technologies, Thailand-based seafood giant Thai Union Group has invested an undisclosed sum in Israeli alternative protein start-up Flying SpArk.
The investment in the Ashdod- based start-up, which produces protein from fruit fly larvae, represents the first deal announced by Thai Union after launching a venture fund to secure access to and accelerate innovative food-tech solutions.
The seafood company, the world’s largest producer of canned tuna products, has committed an initial $30 million to the venture fund. Cultivating fruit fly larvae in a sustainable manner with minimal waste, Flying SpArk is the maker of a 70% protein powder and oil which can be incorporated into a range of food and feed products.
The larvae have a lifespan of just one week, but can multiply their body mass by 250 times during that short time.
With promises of low water utilization, no greenhouse gas emissions and negligible land use, Flying SpArk says its larvae-based proteins have an advantage over proteins sourced from meat, plants and other insects, including crickets and grasshoppers.
For every 1,000 tons of protein powder produced, Flying SpArk says, its technology will save 110 million square meters of freshwater, 50,000 hectares of land and 55,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
The start-up is one of a dozen supported by The Kitchen Hub in Ashdod, a food-tech incubator founded by the Strauss Group. It has also participated in IKEA’s Bootcamp accelerator in Sweden.
“Over the last years, Thai Union has made significant investments to become a leader in seafood innovation and sustainability,” said Thai Union CEO Thiraphong Chansiri. “As we move into the coming decade, we will increasingly cooperate with innovative start-ups in strategically interesting areas. This will complement our own activities as we are broadening our business beyond our traditional core.”
Thai Union says its new fund will focus on alternative protein, functional nutrition and value chain technology. The company, which recorded annual sales of approximately $4.1 billion in 2018, recently co-founded Thailand’s first food-tech incubator and accelerator, Space-F, together with Thailand’s National Innovation Agency and Mahidol University.
According to data published last month by nonprofit Start- Up Nation Central, more than 350 hi-tech start-ups operate in Israel’s rapidly growing agrifood sector, with approximately one-third established during the past five years. Since 2016, 124 start-ups were founded – exceeding the total number of companies established in the previous six years.
In 2018, agri-food firms secured $103 million in equity investment, putting Israel on par with, and even exceeding, far larger countries, including Australia and India.
Funding records have already been broken again this year, with investments reaching $115 million by September. Companies including DouxMatok, Aleph Farms and Fieldin have led the largest investment rounds.