Kees Aarts, Protix, © photo Bram Saeys
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A third of the world’s fish population is caught specifically for pet food. When Kees Aarts, founder of Protix, found this out, he came up with an innovative solution that even met with the approval of Sir David Attenborough. Now, the pioneer from Brabant is the market leader in large-scale insect breeding. This did not happen by itself; with the support of the Brabant Development Agency (BOM), the company became the cream of the crop.

Aarts has been fascinated by nature since childhood, but also by the shaky balance between man and nature. His groundbreaking idea that led to Protix originated in Mozambique in 2008. One evening, he philosophized about the fate of numerous fish caught as a rich source of protein for processing into animal feed. The result is overfishing and enormous pressure on nature. What if we grew insects on a large scale for the production of protein in animal feed?

Why this is important:

Protix markets insects as a sustainable and competitive alternative to fish and livestock feed. The advantages of insects over other options are numerous: little space is needed for cultivation, insects thrive on waste streams, and CO₂ emissions are many times lower than alternatives such as chicken (27 times lower) or soy (7 times lower).

Not unique, but the first

Upon returning to the Netherlands, his idea turned out not to be unique. Still, Aarts saw plenty of opportunities. He set to work with his colleague at McKinsey, Tarique Arsiwalla. “At that time, the sector was still in its infancy. Some hobby farmers grew mealworms for fish feed, but that was where it stopped.”

Soon, it was clear to Aarts and Arsiwalla what they needed to do: technology that would allow them to produce protein from insects on a large scale and at a competitive cost. “In rapid succession, we poured it into a form like no one had before. We attracted investment, thought big, and fully bet on the right industrial production technology.” That took Aarts and Arsiwalla quite a bit of blood, sweat, and tears. “We produced in a container, in a greenhouse, then expanded to a 3,000-square-meter warehouse that we converted ourselves. It wasn’t until 2019 that we had a fully manageable process from A to Z for the first time.”

Adding proteins or fats from insects to animal feed makes sense because, in nature, almost all animals eat insects. This contributes to combating overfishing, making the meat, fish, and dairy industry more sustainable, and solving part of the food waste mountain.

Hot in food

Protix is now hot and supplies dozens of companies worldwide in the animal feed and feed sector. But that success took some time. To get his idea off the ground, among other things, Aarts had to develop a business model in an industry that did not yet exist. He had to build the technology for growing the insects from scratch, and European regulations initially stood in the way of his plans. “Through our production process, food waste returns to our food system. That created a whole new industry that EU legislation was not yet ready for.”

With the help of the province of Brabant, BOM, and the Dutch government, Protix was able to help shape new EU legislation through a “deregulation” paper. Aarts calls it his biggest victory. “I am mega proud of that. Our most important result is that our technology and products have shaped the entire industry.”

Our main result is that our technology and our products have shaped the entire industry.

Kees Aarts, CEO and founder of Protix

How it works.

Now, there is a 15,000-square-meter factory in Bergen op Zoom. There, Protix breeds black soldier flies, an insect that thrives on food scraps and converts those scraps very quickly into proteins and fats. Kees Aarts: “For me, the black soldier fly embodies nature’s power. The larva is a natural raw material with a high nutritional value for almost everything that grows in nature. The larva eats almost everything we call garbage. We breed the black soldier fly, harvest the eggs, and raise them on food waste so they grow very fast. We process the larvae into protein and fat for use in animal feed.”

High point after high point

In 2021, Invest-NL and incumbent shareholders, including BOM, brought in another €15.5 million. This round of financing allowed Protix to further optimize its production capacity and prepare for further international expansion. “In a few years we had several wonderful highlights,” says Aarts. “We achieved commercial success, completed a successful insect breeding program, and strengthened our organization with new talent in key positions.”

Protix’s journey did not go unnoticed. For example, in 2019, King Willem-Alexander was the one to open the new factory in Bergen op Zoom, Sir David Attenborough wrote a letter to Aarts wishing the company all the best, and Protix won the title Most Innovative Company of the Netherlands (2020) and Most Impactful Grower (2021). In 2022, the European Circular Bioeconomy Fund (ECBF), BNP Paribas, the Prince Albert II Foundation, and The Good Investors stepped into Protix. This new €50 million financing was supported by existing shareholders. Once again, Protix is using this money for further international expansion, as well as for pioneering R&D.


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