Interview with Carlotta Totaro Fila, Alia founder
Hi Carlotta, tell us how you entered the world of edible insects
I saw for the first time edible insects about 10 years ago. I heard about it in a R&D lab in the Netherlands – I was working at the time as a company nutritionist for a multinational company very keen to food innovation. For many years I have not dealt with it, but I have worked on other Novel Food products successfully launched on the Italian market. Few years ago I applied to a FAO hackathon in Rome. The topic was food sustainability, and I presented a project on edible insects. This was the moment I can say my passion for this sector begun. Since then I studied edible insects and their potentiality, and I am still focused on them. I was fascinated by the enormous nutritional properties of these “new” foods, but even more I look at them as great contributors for future sustainable food systems.
Tell us briefly about the Alia project
Alia Insect Farm is an innovative agri food start-up. The project is based on 100% Italian food product excellence. We cover the entire supply chain, from breeding crickets to their transformation into flour. Alia means in Latin “something else, something different”. We actually produce sustainable powder rich in alternative proteins. We want to offer an additional food choice to consumer keen to be healthy choosing balanced and nutritious diet. We target flexitarians, lowering their meat intake without banning proteins from animals. We want to provide a new sustainable “meat”, without hidden hormones or antibiotics. The choice of the name Alia also comes from an crasis that brings together the name of my two kids, A-ndrea and Ceci-LIA. It is also for them that I wanted to realize ALIA project. Each of us can contribute to build a more sustainable world for new generations. Edible insects can play an important role by contributing to a more sustainable food system, combining innovation and respect for the resources of our planet.
What characteristics will your flour have?
Our flour will be very soft and fine, with a light flavor and color, microbiologically safe and 100% made in Italy. We have developed a process that uses technologically advanced machinery, for powder atomization in flow, with excellent taste and safety results.
As for the “Novel Food” authorization, how are you proceeding?
We have enthusiastically welcomed the recent developments following the publication of the Opinion on Tenebrio molitor. We believe this is a corner stone to finally allow edible insect marketing in Europe. With regards to crickets, the situation is a little different: there are already dossiers presented to EFSA for this species of insects, but it may take some time before the use of crickets for food will be authorized. For this reason Alia Insect Farm is working to its own dossier. We want to be ready, should the situation remain as it is for long time. It is a complex and time consuming process to write a scientific dossier to be submitted to EFSA, and when you are a small start-up it is even more complicated. But we started working on it, we count on the help of experts and multi-sectoral skills. If the situation in Europe does not unblock in the coming months, we will be ready, in the coming future, to submit our application.
Are you planning to develop vertical farming? When do you think you will be ready to market the flour?
Yes, our farm will develop vertically. We plan to reach up to 4 levels in height. The farm is divided into modular rooms and is adjacent to the room used for the slaughterhouse and to another sector where we process the powder. Although they are different and separated operations, we can follow the entire production chain with great accuracy, there are no intermediate steps running outside the company.
Covid has slowed us down a lot. However, we plan to go into production by the end of 2021. Until the regulatory framework allows the commercialization of our cricket powder in Europe, we will focus only on the non-EU market. But Alia’s goal is certainly to finally compete on the EU market.
Will made-in-Italy insect flour have an advantage in the market, due to the fact that it is produced in Italy?
We hope so. It will certainly be a product with some enabling differentiators, able to compete with the current extra EU products. We aim to position for premium quality, safety and new application. For example, we are studying a very fine particle size to open up the use for sports drinks. We focus a lot on product and on entire production chain control. In the short term we would like to develop a special feed for our crickets, which will in part, at least as regards the cereal fraction, be produced directly by Alia Insect Farm in the fields next to our farm. A 0 KM feed would be a great achievement.