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Ever-expanding Maltento eyes opportunities in aquaculture, cosmetics

Dried black soldier fly larvae

Full-fat insect meal

Dean Smorenburg

19th July 2023

By: Irma Venter

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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The Maltento insect farm started as a small, test-scale operation in a home bathroom in Craighall Park, Johannesburg. 

Almost seven years later, founder and CEO Dean Smorenburg has seen the operation evolve into a fully-fledged business based in Epping, Cape Town. 

Smorenburg says his decision to pivot from management consulting to insect farming stems from his interest in sustainability. 

Insect farming, and to be more specific, fly farming, is no longer new or novel, with this biotech sector rapidly gaining traction globally. 

Smorenburg’s take on the industry is to not call Maltento a waste management company, as some fly farmers tend to do. 

This means he doesn’t want to use the legions of black soldier flies (BSFs) at Maltento to feed on unwanted waste, such as abattoir leftovers. 

Instead, his goal is to create a consistently high-quality product, which means Maltento’s livestock must have a consistently high-quality diet. 

“We have a PhD looking after the diet of the insects to make sure we produce good-quality products throughout,” says Smorenburg. 

This philosophy sees Maltento’s livestock flourish on a diet which includes spent grains from breweries, as well as ground-up rusks. 

Larvae are typically harvested at day 11 or 12. 

The Epping facility – which started out at 1 600 m2 and has since expanded to 5 500 m2 – produces whole dried fly larvae for the backyard chicken and wild-bird markets, mainly in the US. 

It also produces a product called Digest or Palate+ from dehydrated larvae, which is a high-protein flavourant or palatant used to coat dry pet kibble to enhance the overall feed experience. 

“In taste tests, dogs choose our product over other products,” says Smorenburg. 

“Of course, we also have to make sure that their human owners like the smell.” 

Digest is sold mainly in South Africa, but trials are ongoing in the US and Europe to expand Maltento’s market. 

A second focus for the company is the aquaculture market, with trials currently on the go in various African markets, as well as the US. 

Here the Digest product is added to fish feed, especially on trout farms. 

“With a 3% inclusion of our product we have seen the fish gain weight, while there is also a drop in the mortality rate,” says Smorenburg. 

“Aquaculture is definitely a big opportunity for us going forward.” 

Another opportunity on the horizon is the production of chitosan, although this may take longer to develop. 

Chitosan is a sugar that comes from the outer skeleton of shellfish, including crab, lobster and shrimp – as well as fly larvae. 

It's used in a number of industries, from the pharmaceutical sector to cosmetic production. 

Here, Maltento will target the cosmetics industry first, says Smorenburg. 

“Our long-term view is to unlock the BSF’s value in its totality.” 

In order to accommodate Maltento’s plans, the Epping facility will have to expand yet again, this time to around to 7 000 m2

The urban farm has two arms – the production of sellable product, as well as the breeding of new livestock. 

Maltento currently rolls out 75 t of product a month, and aims to double that to 150 t a month next year. 

“We are currently in the early commercialisation phase,” notes Smorenburg.  

“Ultimately, we want to have multiple plants, near large feed sources, which will reduce our carbon footprint and our input costs.” 

This could mean an expansion to Gauteng, for example, as well as the rest of Africa. 

Maltento employs 65 people. 

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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