In terms of work schedules, shrimp farms are easier to care for than cow or pig farms. Shrimps don’t have to be fed, milked or cleaned at 5 o’clock in the morning. ‘We can just as well start at 8 o’clock,’ says Daniel Flock, laughing. ‘The feeding is done automatically by machines – we just have to make sure they’re running correctly.’ His day begins in the morning with an inspection round: are all the pumps operating, is the food being dispensed in the right amounts? Afterwards, over a cup of coffee, plans are made for the day. ‘We look at the tasks that need to be done and what orders need to be fished, packed and sent,’ he says. The growth time of a shrimp is 5 to 6 months – only then can it be harvested. Flock and his business partner, Markus Schreiner, have developed a system that allows a continuous harvest – so they can supply food service industry customers, retailers and private households year-round.
Flock actually planned to open a restaurant and serve his guests regional specialities. Then he saw a documentary about shrimp production and thought to himself: that must be possible to do without the chemicals and antibiotics! He decided not to become a restaurateur after all, but – together with Schreiner – a restaurant supplier instead. One with the healthiest, freshest shrimp a chef can imagine – grown in the Austrian Alps in the best mountain spring water mixed with sea salt. ‘We started out small, experimented and researched, and we networked with specialists in building aquafarms,’ Flock recounts. ‘Our own professional background in design engineering came in handy, of course.’
The highest standards for the animals’ well-being
Their shrimp farm in the Alps is equipped with an elaborate system for wastewater treatment, so that only a minimal amount of freshwater has to be added, to replace what is lost due to evaporation. ‘We give the water time to regenerate itself,’ Flock explains. He and Schreiner set the highest standards not just for the well-being and health of their shrimp, but also for the environmental aspects of the aquafarm. The water in the breeding tanks is kept at 28°C to 30°C and is inspected daily in the in-house laboratory. The tanks are located on 2 floors of an isolated building. The sludge that forms from the shrimp excretions is removed and could be used in biogas plants – but that’s a project for the future.
Flock and Schreiner buy the shrimp larvae they need for production from breeders – but they are working at full speed on their own shrimp cultivation and have engaged a biologist to support them. ‘We’ve had some initial success,’ Flock says. ‘Now we have to work that into our ongoing production process. We want the quality of the shrimp to continue to improve, not decline, over time, so we have to work very cleanly and precisely.’
About the Tyrolean shrimp
The Alpenaquafarm product is originally a whiteleg shrimp – also called white tiger shrimp. This species of shrimp – the queen of underwater arthropods – is especially well suited for breeding in aquafarms. It has a crisp texture and a nutty, slightly sweet flavour. More information: alpengarnelen.at
You can taste the difference
When they first went into business in 2015, the fledgling shrimp farmers produced in small volumes. They contacted a handful of regional restaurateurs as well as retailers and let them try the shrimp. The response of the testers was unanimous: they wanted more! Because these shrimp from the Alps had proven that you can taste the health of an animal, even a small one. And you can see it, too: they have feelers as long as their bodies and quite a tough shell – unmistakable signs of ample space in their water tanks and the outstanding quality of their water and food. ‘You can eat our shrimp raw,’ Flock says proudly. ‘When you fry them, they maintain their form and size. They’re a natural product with their own flavour, because they aren’t pumped full of chemicals.’ The shrimp are killed by quickly immersing them in iced water. ‘This cold shock from 28°C to below 0°C is the most protective method and the cold chain is immediately effective,’ Flock explains. Because, as with cows or pigs, you can taste stress in shrimp – and this mountain-grown variety doesn’t experience any. Flock and Schreiner also pay attention to the feed; they do not feed soya, for example.
Flock and Schreiner’s Alpenaquafarm Tirol GmbH has reached a production volume of approximately 1 ton per month. The entrepreneurs don’t believe in overly fast growth – with respect to either their shrimp or their company. ‘We didn’t want to invest millions right at the start, without first knowing the product,’ Flock explains. ‘We’re constantly growing, but at a healthy pace.’ They sell their shrimp through their own online shop, through selected delicatessen shops, directly to restaurateurs and through METRO Austria. Flock relates that ‘Lukas from the store in Rum and Christian from procurement reached out to us and suggested that we collaborate’ – with the result that the Tyrolean shrimp can now be found at 5 Austrian METRO wholesale stores. ‘We might expand to more in the future, but we’re taking it slowly.’
Decentralised production close to the consumer
Energy-efficient systems, healthy animals, no antibiotics, marine protection – the story of the shrimp from the Alps sounds like a sustainability fairy tale. But can a product that so obviously doesn’t belong to its place of production ever be truly sustainable? ‘When you go into a shop and have a look at their offerings,’ Flock says, ‘you find a very large number of products that we see as native today, but that once weren’t. Technological progress opens up completely new perspectives when it comes to taking a food originally from another region – like the shrimp – and making it “native” to a particular new place. And most importantly, without overfishing, without antibiotics and without living conditions that are unfit for people or animals.’ Flock is confident that, in the future, ever more foods will be produced this way: decentralised and close to the consumer. His mountain-grown shrimp show that it is already possible today.
- Wholesale and regionality aren’t a contradiction, but rather complement each other to guarantee customers the best quality.
- Transparency about the origins of the products used strengthens the trust between the restaurateur and their guests. Regional and ecologically sound products help to foster this transparency.
- Short delivery routes from producer to plate result in better-tasting food. Guests are more willing to pay appropriate prices for this quality if they know the story behind the food. It is therefore advisable that restaurants actively communicate the health and ecological aspects of the products.
More on the topic: Stepping Up Sustainability – But How? 10 Tips for Restaurateurs