Better Origin, a micro-farm that can turn food waste into animal feed, has secured $16 million in Series A funding. Led by Balderton Capital, with existing investors Fly Ventures and Metavallon VC the funding will be used to expand the Better Origin team as they commercialise their product, helping to make agriculture more sustainable, improve animal welfare, and benefit farmers.
The environmental problem with food
The food industry has a huge impact on the environment. The UN estimates that the production, processing, and packaging of food causes more than one-third of annual greenhouse gas emissions. And to make that statistic even more alarming, around one-third of that food goes to waste; in other words, around ten per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are generated from food that is just thrown away. And when the climate crisis is joined by the cost-of-living crisis and global instability, it demonstrates the dangers of a broken food chain. “Climate change, the pandemic, political tensions and our growing population have demonstrated time and again how fragile our current systems are,” said Suranga Chandratillake, General Partner at Balderton Capital. “Better Origin presents a new approach, and we believe it can have a transformational effect on food and farming systems.”
Better Origin’s co-founder and CEO, Fotis Fotiadis, told TFN a little about how the idea behind the company, and their X1 product, how they help agriculture and the environment, and their plans.
Beginning with a chance encounter
Fotiadis started his career as a mechanical engineer. Working in gas and oil, while he found he enjoyed the technical challenges, he lacked a feeling he was making a real difference. And with a lifelong affinity with nature, he went to Cambridge to study sustainable engineering. It was there he entered a competition in which he was allocated into a team with co-founder Miha Pipan, and set the challenge of dealing with food waste.
“We were trying to brainstorm some smart solutions around food waste, and we had a eureka moment,” Fotiadis explains. “We realised that food waste is a manmade problem that doesn’t exist in nature.” Realising that in nature food formed a cycle, rather than a chain, where eventually everything is eaten, started the process of thinking differently about food waste.
Founded in 2016, the company did four years of research and development before launching as Better Origin in 2020. Their product, the X1, is, essentially, an insect farm that can be located on a livestock farm. Rather than shipping feed from overseas to UK farms, the X1 uses waste food to encourage the breeding and growth of black soldier flies. These can grow to 5,000 of their initial size in less than two weeks. High in protein and fat, the larvae can be fed to livestock.
Better for everyone
The X1 is a fully automated solution for a shipping container. Delivered for free with a monthly subscription, the farm can be remotely monitored and controlled, advising the farmer when action is needed, such as adding more waste food or farming the larvae. The flies take care of the rest, supported by an environment designed to foster growth.
The units have been installed in five farms in a partnership with Morrison’s, with a further ten due for installation in the next six months. The initial trials have been a success, demonstrating that a single unit can produce feed for around 32,000 free-range chickens while dealing with 150 tonnes of food waste.
And the X1 brings a wide range of benefits, explains Fotiadis. “We fundamentally improve three very important pillars, sustainability, welfare, and productivity. First, by deploying the system on your farm, you become more sustainable because you take in food waste that would otherwise go to landfill. Second, by feeding the larvae to chickens, you improve all the welfare KPIs. The hens are much more active and much less stressed. Third, high-welfare hens produce more and eat less, so there’s a performance improvement there as well.”
Better Origin’s plans are to develop its product and expand its team, currently 32, to around 70 people by the end of the year. Fotiadis is keen that this strengthens the company culture. “The secret sauce in what we do is that we bring people from very diverse backgrounds to work together,” says Fotiadis. “Our team includes PhDs in genetics and computer vision, all the way to field engineers and drivers. Everyone has a unique place in the company, and it’s really interesting when you bring brilliant people from different fields to work together.”
The new capacity will help them further develop the X1, as well as expand to new markets, both beyond their initial focus on poultry and globally. Fotiadis is ambitious, although the Western palate might not be quite ready for some of his ambitions: “The beauty about this technology, insects, and food waste is that you can produce all sorts of stuff: feed for agriculture, pet food and, you never know, even for human food in the future!”