Thai Union's open innovation leader Lalana Thiranusronkij has joined fellow Thai food giant Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF) as head of innovation and new product development.

Two years with Thai Union, she previously served as senior vice president of Thai dairy processor KCG Corporation for eight years.

CPF has so far ridden out the COVID-19 pandemic, with rising earnings in 2020 attributed to new production technology.

The company reported a substantial 72 percent rise in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization to THB 81.7 billion (€2.2 billion/$2.7 billion) in February, with net profits rising 41 percent in their wake to THB 26 billion (€702.6 million/$858.7 million).

The performance was an improvement from the previous year despite the COVID-19 outbreak and African Swine Fever (ASF) largely because of the company's adoption of advanced technology and innovations, including AI, in the production process, according to the group.

The new technology includes new animal breeding and farming practices, the integration of bio-security measures, and effective and preventive measures against the spread of diseases in its shrimp and swine businesses.

Also in February, CP Foods signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Thailand's Chiang Mai University to develop insect-based protein from black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens) as an alternative food source for both animals and humans.

'The agreement aims to commercialize insect-based protein, with the production process also allowing for the recycling of biowaste.

As part of the MOU, CP Foods will fund and jointly develop the first smart farm for black soldier fly in Thailand, which will act as a pilot and also a learning center for students, farmers, and the community.

CP Foods has been working on several alternative protein sources, across plant-based protein, cell-based protein, and insect-based protein in response to the new sustainable food trend and building food security.

The company has a "keen interest" in the insect sector, said CP Senior Vice President Pairat Srichana. It developed cricket feed in 2013 and started researching black soldier flies in 2016.

“Black soldier fly is a sustainable choice for alternative protein and fat sources," said Pairat. "Therefore, we are making a traceable and value-added insect protein."

Later this year, Thai Union will launch its plant-based protein line: "shrimp but not shrimp," Thai Union's Group Director of Global Innovation Tunyawat Kasemsuwan told IntraFish in January.

"I believe in the next five years you will see massive growth of plant-based proteins," he said.

The company has also invested in US cell-based seafood producer BlueNalu and says another investment in this area is in the pipeline.