Robert Downey Jr.-backed insect protein company Ynsect has acquired bug-raising rival Protifarm to accelerate its international expansion.

Dutch agtech company Protifarm, which breeds the Buffalo mealworm (Alphitobius diaperinus) for human applications such as sports nutrition, meat alternatives and baked goods, has a production site based in Ermelo, one hour east of Amsterdam.

Following a European Food Safety Authority decision in January deeming mealworms safe for human consumption, Ynsect is also expanding into the market of food ingredients derived from insects and striving to obtain food authorization for its own protein concentrate meal.

Protifarm’s vertical farm and processing facility produces more than 1,000 metric tons of food ingredients annually, and the company is aiming to expand the facility to 20,000 metric tons of insect-derived ingredients to feed humans, pets and plants.

With two Ynsect production sites now in operation and one under construction, the result is an increase in volume and an acceleration of production, representing a total capacity of over 230,000 metric tons of ingredients per year.

Protifarm brings nearly 40 years of experience in insect breeding and owns 37 patents across 10 categories, bringing the total number of patents now owned by Ynsect to nearly 300, the company said.

Protifarm also has established food customers in Germany, the Netherlands, England, Denmark, and Belgium.

Ynsect's remarkable growth

Ynsect, founded in 2011 in Paris, is currently building its third production unit, the largest vertical farm in the world, in Amiens, France, and operates two further sites in France and the Netherlands.

To date, the startup's total financing has reached $425 million (€357.2 million), which is more than the total amount raised by the entire insect protein sector globally.

The company raised a total of $372 million (€312.6 million) in a Series C fundraising round supported by Astanor Ventures, Los Angeles-based Upfront Ventures, celebrity actor Robert Downey Jr.'s FootPrint Coalition, Hong Kong-based Happiness Capital, Supernova Invest and Armat Group in October last year.

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Additionally, in 2019, the company secured $125 million (€105 million) in venture capital.

Ynsect has $105 million (€88.2 million) worth of contracts signed to supply customers including aquaculture feed giant Skretting, European wine brand Torres, and plant nutrition firm Compo Group.

The project produces insects called tenebrio molitor, or mealworm beatles, on an industrial scale. The insects can be used as premium proteins for animal feed and fertilizers.

Following the acquisition, Protifarm’s founding and lead investor, Marvesa, will also become a shareholder in the Ynsect mother company, thereby further expanding Ynsect’s shareholders footprint to the Netherlands.