Poultry is one of the world’s most popular sources of meat due to its rapid production. The consumption of poultry is constantly growing therefore, the daily feather disposal in chicken farms and slaughterhouses is very high. As a solution to the feather waste, two brothers from Straseni managed to create an innovative solution to transform feathers into a protein concentrate utilisied in animal feed. At the moment, the investments made by the entrepreneurs Denis Anton and his brother Vladimir amount to more than one million euros. Even if they have faced and still encounter bureaucratic and legislative barriers, they have big plans for the near future. The interview will provide you a glance of how did the Anton brothers advance in a lesser known field in the Republic of Moldova, what opportunities are on the market in the domestic market and how do entrepreneurs manage in bridge the COVID-19 related issues.
You turn feathers into protein concentrate, an area less known in the Republic of Moldova. I want you to tell us in more detail about your work. How did you come up with the idea for this business?
The main activity of our company is the processing of animal by-products not intended for human consumption. It all started in 2012, when we imported an extrusion processing technology and set up a business. Through this technology we process animal waste after slaughter, expired or non-compliant products and turn them into animal feed. Meanwhile, the market dictated its rules to us and in order to survive we needed to find new, cheap and quality protein sources. We started an extensive study and, in the end, our choice was bird feather: a specific product with a high protein content, however complicated to process. We came up with the idea of using specific processing methods, modern, but not used in that field. I can assure you that, at the beginning, we did not have sources from which to inform ourselves or to consult with. Theoretically, we knew and we were convinced that we would succeed. At first we wanted to adapt our ideas to the machines we had, however as a result of our self-confidence and perseverence we managed to create our own technology and a new product.
What are your initial investments and what profit do you currently have? Can you tell us how you integrated in the market conditions?
The initial investments were a little more than 200 thousand US dollars. The feasibility study, the risks assumed and the market conditions at that time indicated a fairly high level of profitability, and the investment was to be recovered within three years. Everything changed with the foreign exchange crisis due to non-performing loans in 2014. Having credit agreements in foreign currency, we had to return to the bank very large amounts related to the new exchange rates displayed. However, we complied with the new realities, being convinced that the ideas we set out to implement were correct and attainable. Currenlty, the investments have exceeded one million euros.
What opportunities are on the market in Republic of Moldova for this field? How applicable your company’s practice is?
At the moment we have finished processing about 40% of the bird feather produced in the Republic of Moldova. We could increase our capabilities, but at the moment it is not appropriate to do so. These are additional investments, but the most important is the market. We have come to the conclusion that all the knowledge and results gained during our activity in this field deserve to be implemented in new factories, built in other countries, but not at home. There is interest in technology and product from EU countries, Ukraine, Russia. Moreover, the attitude towards animal waste management entrepreneurs is quite doubtful, not to mention new inventions and technologies, however our results and product proves overwise.
You are probably facing problems, either legislative or bureaucratic, what are they?
I believe that one of the biggest problems that currently exists in the processing of animal by-products not intended for human consumption is the legislative framework governing the end-use of products obtained from their processing. Everyone is aware that there are huge quantities of by-products to be processed; but we, being in the field, ask who do we sell to and where do we use the products from the processing? The market in the Republic of Moldova is limited in their use in farm animal feed, and exports are blocked due to non-compliance with the conditions stipulated in the Association Agreement with the EU. The pet market is too small and the investments required are large. This creates a vicious circle: on the one hand we need processing, on the other hand we can not unlock the market for the finished product. This situation has been uncertain for many years.
Have you tried to expand abroad? If so, what experience have you had?
In April 2019 our company was registered in the European TRACES system as a bird feather processor, which allows us to export to EU countries. But we were not very happy when we found out that the Republic of Moldova is not part of the list of non-EU countries that have the right to export to the EU. This right will be granted when the conditions stipulated in the Association Agreement are met, for instance Ukraine. Anyway, in terms of technology, there are intentions, we also received an advance for the construction of a bird feather processing plant in Romania.
How much has your company’s activity been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Quite enough. Last year we made great efforts to be able to export to Ukraine, namely to the companies that deal with mink breeding. We also had a few deliveries, we prepared the ground for the 2020 season and the customers were satisfied with the quality of our product. However, the pandemic has substantially affected this branch, fur prices are selling well below cost, and most farmers are unable to pay. We are now looking for other customers and other opportunities elsewhere.
Do you have support from the state, in the conditions of the crisis?
We did not have any support and did not benefit from any subsidies. On the contrary, as far as possible, we try to support the collaborators from the Academy of Sciences, the Agrarian University of Moldova through various joint projects co-financed, in order to create and develop ourselves.
I assume you work in a special way during this period. Are all sanitary norms observed?
Every day, a maximum of four workers work directly at the factory, each with their own workplace that involves interaction only in exceptional cases, therefore all requirements imposed by the authorities are met. In other words, social distance is maintained throughout the working day.
What are your plans for the future?
Today we develop other products on the market in the Republic of Moldova such as natural food and without preservatives for dogs, which is promising. We look forward to unlocking exports of protein concentrate to the EU market which is interested in our product. We will promote our bird feather processing technology in other countries for the opening of new processing plants. We want to participate in projects such as Horizon 2030 on functional keratin. We would like the solutions we have, regarding the processing of other animal and vegetable by-products (with high ecological impact), using the technologies and equipment produced by Terafix, to move them from the stage of laboratory samples to practical solutions and implementation.