Nutreco Exploration Garden of the future facilities Nutreco Exploration Garden of the future facilities

Harnessing the power of plants

Nutreco Exploration was created in 2021 to serve as a creative engine to help drive the Innovation Groups of Skretting, Selko, and Trouw Nutrition. Through two programs which explore phytotechnology and microtechnology, Nutreco Exploration aims to develop novel and proprietary plant ingredients that will raise the bar on how we can tailor solutions for stand-alone additives, functional premixes, or functional feeds. This groundbreaking work takes place at Nutreco's Garden of the Future, located in the world-renowned Phyto Valley in Thurgau, Switzerland. 

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Plant generated with AI

Supercharging fish feed through the power of whole plants

How do we use PhytoComplexes from Nutreco Exploration in our fish feed? Here is a peek into the processes involved.

For the last 15 years, we have incorporated phytogenics or plant extracts into our health diets, such as Protec for fish and Lorica for shrimp. Our collaboration with Nutreco Exploration’s Garden of the Future will revolutionise the way we formulate, as we will now be able to use PhytoComplexes from whole plants to help tackle health challenges in the aquaculture industry.

A PhytoComplex is a combination of actives expressed by the entire genotype of a specific plant. Nutreco Exploration doesn’t just use any plant within a plant species – they are looking for the one plant out of thousands in the same species that has the right genotype to tackle a problem. And when before we were using plant extracts made from isolating or synthesizing a single compound from a plant, now we will use the entire plant, including the roots, leaves, fruits and even the full-spectrum essential oils. PhytoComplexes are far more potent, and will fully harness the power of nature to improve the wellbeing and resilience of animals.

“These compounds are put together in plants for a reason – when you start taking them apart, you lose bioefficacy,’ explains Emma Wall, Development & Deployment Director at Nutreco Exploration. “So, we’re trying to not only respect the observation of what we see in these plants, but also respect that they’re meant to be (used as a whole).”

Emma’s team of phytotechnology experts works closely with our R&D team. The process starts with identifying a specific customer issue, such as improving organ health or decreasing chronic inflammation. Nutreco Exploration proceeds to propose plants that could solve the problem, which could be as many as 50 plants. These plants are then screened through bioassays, while patent and regulatory entry barriers are assessed in parallel, which narrows the candidates down to anything from 2 to 10 plants. At this stage we start to work on product development, running trials, doing dose response work in challenge settings, and looking at logistics and feasibility. The final phase involves cultivar variety protection, followed by plant production.

“Skretting defines the challenge and the context, and we come up with a proposal, before we let the animals tell us what the value of our solution is,” says Emma. The collaboration between Skretting and Nutreco Exploration is one of constant exchange, and things are progressing fast. The momentum perhaps is an accurate reflection of how this partnership is accelerating innovation for the aquaculture industry. A number of products featuring PhytoComplexes are already slated for launch in 2024, backed by strong trial results.

"Nutreco Exploration and the Garden of the Future are here to support the Skretting business 100%," says David Bravo, Chief Science Officer in Nutreco. "In five years from now we want to have five PhytoComplexes, that customers can only access through Protec, Lorica, or any other functional feed from Skretting. That is our dream."

PhytoComplexes unlike anything the industry has seen

Skretting's Health Team Lead Linda Jensen talks about how aquaculture industry challenges have evolved, and what we have in store to address them.

Linda Jensen
You’re the Team Lead for Health in Skretting; have you been working with fish health for a long time?

I started in Skretting in 2002, and the first five years I was working with nutrition, mainly with fishmeal replacement in salmonid diets. In 2007 we started the fish health department with two members, and since then, we have become a team of eight. The focus has also been extended to include shrimp as well as warm water fish and salmonids.

Has the aquaculture industry been facing the same health challenges all these years?

Over the last two decades the challenges in the aquaculture industry have evolved. Vaccines have been developed to mitigate many important diseases, but unfortunately there are still some that we have no effective treatments or medicines for. Apart from disease threats, issues like environmental impact, antimicrobial resistance (AMR), climate change, focus on sustainable resources, and animal welfare are becoming more important.

Had Skretting considered harnessing the power of plants in its fish feed, before starting its collaboration with Nutreco Exploration in 2021?

We are in fact already using several plant components in our feeds today, but with Nutreco Exploration’s expertise in phytopharmacy and agronomy, we will be taking our work to the next level. Previously we were limited to a scarce number of plants from third party suppliers, but now thanks to our in-house plant scientists, we will have access to plants we would never have been able to source without them. These plants will be selected, cultivated, harvested, and processed by us, so we will be able to bring consistently high quality solutions to our customers as a result. Also, in the past we would have used a single compound to target a health challenge, but we can now use a combination of many compounds from whole plants (what we call PhytoComplexes) to achieve a more powerful effect, even with lower concentrations.

With the opening of Nutreco’s Garden of the Future, we are gathering all the expertise of the phytotechnology team under one roof, and this is a unique asset for Skretting.
Linda Jensen, Team Lead Health, Skretting
To your knowledge, does any other feed producer use plants in the same way as we will be doing with Nutreco Exploration?

For sure other feed producers are using plant ingredients, but mainly essential oils or specific plant compounds. We will not isolate or synthesize single compounds but use the complexity of the whole plant to our benefit. Our PhytoComplexes are truly unlike anything our industry has offered before – this is a new way of thinking about functional feeds and the power of phytogenics. With the opening of Nutreco’s Garden of the Future, we are gathering all the expertise of the phytotechnology team under one roof, and this is a unique asset for Skretting.

How do you think our partnership with Nutreco Exploration will benefit our customers and the industry?

Fish and shrimp are facing a range of complex challenges during their life cycle. What we do in this collaboration is to first understand the customer’s problem before intentionally discovering and developing the PhytoComplexes that target the root cause of those problems. In this way, we are improving animal welfare and the sustainability of our industry at the same time.

Are there any product launches in 2024 that will feature PhytoComplexes?

We started this collaboration about two years ago, and are currently running several trials in both fish and shrimp to validate the first three PhytoComplexes for our functional feeds. We anticipate including these in our functional feeds before the end of the year.

You must have seen many different innovative ideas come out of Skretting in your career. What excites you about this collaboration?

What makes it exciting for me is that it has opened up a whole new area of research and knowledge that I did not have access to before. The Nutreco Exploration team’s extensive experience in phytopharmacy, phytochemistry, agronomy, plant breeding, and production are bringing us something completely new. It is so much fun to work with them, and the research is moving forward with incredible speed. I am excited to continue the development of new solutions that will make a difference to animal welfare.

Two Minutes with Nutreco Chief Science Officer David Bravo

Two Minutes with Nutreco Exploration Director of Discovery for Phytotechnology Emma Wall

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