Co-CEO, Nutrition Technologies, Malaysia
Nick Piggott is the Co-Chief Executive Officer of Nutrition Technologies based in Johor, Malaysia. He is also the President of Asian Food & Feed Insect Association, Leading the AFFIA Executive Committee to develop, promote and represent the Association members through the international platform. He has a bachelor’s degree in Marketing Communications from University of Leicester and Masters in Charity management from London South Bank University.
You have had rich career in the industry. What initially lead you to this field?
I was working for the UN in West Africa on a maternal & newborn health programme in 2014, where I was exposed to the growing ‘protein gap’ between what we currently produce, and the forecast demand. At the same time I saw an FAO report indicating that insect bioconversion could be a potential bridge between food wastage and food shortage, so I decided to join an insect manufacturing company. At that point there were no companies operating at any meaningful scale, so I saw the opportunity to set something up with my now business partner Tom, who was also working at the UN at the time.
In recent years what are the most critical developments that you have witnessed in the sector?
The two biggest challenges for the uptake of insectmeal in the petfood sector have been price and available volume of products. 30 percent of all petfood is manufactured in Europe, and until the recent change in regulations, petfood manufacturers were limited to sourcing from European insect manufacturers. This meant that the available supply of material was extremely limited to a small number of manufacturers, and petfood manufacturers had to pay high prices for European-manufactured goods. The reason that European production is so expensive, is that BSF are a tropical species – they grow optimally in intense sunlight and warm, wet climate. Replicating these conditions in Europe is expensive and energy intensive. In reducing the energy required to produce the insects you can both reduce the cost significantly, but also have a much lower environmental footprint.
The other major development is in the use of botanicals and natural supplements in formulations. There is a growing understanding of the value of natural ingredients such as ginseng, turmeric, in place of artificial or heavily processed supplements like glucosamine. This is a trend that has spilled over from human nutrition in recent years and is likely to continue. This is good news for pet owners but is likely to exacerbate the conflict between agriculture for human vs animal nutrition unless supplies are carefully managed.
You were awarded the UNGCMYB Sustainability icon award in the SME category. How were you selected, and how has it impacted your team?
This Award was established to recognise the impact that SMEs, and individuals within SMEs, can have on an industry-level. The idea is that SMEs have a broad reach in terms of contact points within their industry and across value chains, and that demonstrating leadership in sustainability, through innovation, product development, new policies etc can have a far reaching effect – much more than just within that one organisation. That recognition for us last year was extremely motivating for everyone at Nutrition Technologies – the UN is obviously a very prestigious organisation, and to be recognised as a leader within our industry was very pleasing for everyone here.
What are opportunities for solution innovations that support sustainable goals in current industry?
I think there are significant further gains to be made in nutrition and formulation, which can be facilitated through more transparent reporting of sustainability metrics by suppliers. In other industries (like aquaculture) some feed manufacturers require suppliers to submit independently developed Product LifeCycle Assessments (LCAs), which essentially indicate what impact a particular material has on the environment. They then use this as part of the evaluation of new materials and new suppliers, and (in some cases) will select one supplier over another based on their sustainability scores. LCAs can be expensive though, so some suppliers are reluctant to invest in doing one – the industry needs to demand this level of transparency on sustainability claims.
Another opportunity is packaging. While the EU recently set targets for reducing packaging waste by requiring future food packaging to be recyclable, this will help but won’t be the solution. There are lots of developments going on around biomaterials – algae-based bioplastic for example, as well as a huge amount of work going into recycling agro-industrial materials into value-added products. Finding ways to use organic by-products and converting them into safe, hygienic packaging materials will be a huge step forwards in the industry’s overall sustainability.
Going forward, what aspects of petfood nutrition would you like to see addressed and why?
I’d like people to stop thinking about insects as being ‘new’ or ‘novel’ for pets. Both dogs & cats naturally produce chitinase, the enzyme that breaks down the biopolymer ‘chitin’. Chitin is predominantly found in crustaceans (shrimp & crabs), fungi (mushrooms & yeast), and insects, suggesting that they have evolved eating insects as part of their ancestral diets. And because they are part of their natural diets, insectmeal is as digestible as venison or poultrymeal, meaning that the animals eating insect-based food are gaining as much nutrition from this more sustainable ingredient as they would from more common petfood ingredients. So even though insects have only recently become a feature on the ingedient lists of petfood products, they have been in the natural, ancestral diets of dogs and cats throughout history.
Where do you think the industry will be by 2050?
I think that ‘sustainable’ and ‘planet friendly’ will no longer be marketing value-adds, as these will have become the baseline requirements for getting a product on the market. All packaging and ingredients will be fully traceable to source, with very clear indications of the environmental impact of the product, with probably more detail on each individual component (eg the exact impact of the fish/wheat/venison/insect ingredient). I think functional nutrition will play a much bigger role than it currently does. Beneficial ingredients that naturally support joint & bone health, gut health, or reduce the need for antibiotics and other treatments will be much more widespread throughout petfood products, and there’s likely to be more individualisation of products for individual animals, again following the trend we see in personalised nutrition in humans.