The commercial use of novel aquafeed ingredients, such as insect meal, algae and single-cell proteins, reached significant levels for the first time in 2020, according to data by food research institute Nofima reported by Feed Strategy.

Although the use of these ingredients remained relatively small compared with more conventional options such as fish oil and soyabean meal, 2020 marked the first time these emerging alternatives had their own category in the survey, which Nofima conducts periodically to track trends in aquafeed production, the 9 February report said.

Norwegian salmon and trout producers taking part in the survey reported using 8,000 tonnes of novel ingredients in 2020, Nofima senior researcher Turid Synnøve Aas was quoted as saying. That total represented about 0.4% of total feed recorded in the survey.

Although some of the novel ingredients, such as single-cell proteins, had been used previously, they had not been included in the results as they were not used in large enough quantities for the survey to capture, Aas added.

However, it was not clear if the 2020 data would be a ‘blip’ or the beginning of an industry-wide trend, she said.

According to Nofima, the growing use of novel ingredients remained connected to companies that were experimenting with potential alternatives to fish meal and soyabean meal, which had attracted recent criticism.

It was also difficult to determine the impact of market turbulence caused by COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on aquafeed trends since the data was collected, Aas said.

The potential for growth in the novel ingredients sector is likely to depend on their cost effectiveness compared to other feed ingredients, according to Aas.

“We have no documentation on whether it’s economic for [fish producers] to use these ingredients,” Aas said.

If algae producers could bring down the cost of their product, algae had the potential to replace or supplement fish oil supplies, according to Aas.

Although insect production could be a good use of waste material, to replace any sizeable amount of soyabean meal with insect protein would require raising insects in huge quantities, she said.

“We calculated that if you want to replace all the soyabean protein concentrate with insect meal, you will have to produce almost the same amount of insect larvae as salmon — about 1.5M tonnes,” Aas added.