The expansion follows a successful pilot in Kroger stores in the Midwest last year that significantly reduced category food waste, said the company. “Apeel avocados, asparagus and limes maintain their just-harvested quality longer than produce without Apeel and are less reliant on refrigeration, reducing food waste and extending customers’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Santa Barbara-based Apeel – which has raised $110m to support its growth to date – was founded in 2012 by Dr James Rogers, a materials scientist on a mission to create an “idealized little microclimate inside of each individual piece of produce,” via an odorless semi-permeable barrier that modulates the rate at which water evaporates out and oxygen gets in.
Apeel - which is colorless, odorless, tasteless and leaves no sticky/waxy residue - is supplied as a powder that can be mixed with water and sprayed onto produce, or used as a dip, and is available in commercial quantities for avocados, citrus fruits, and asparagus, with multiple other applications to follow (Rogers says the company has developed formulas for more than 50 different types of fresh produce).
The food-grade coating – made from lipids and glycerolipids from agricultural byproducts such as tomato skins and seeds - significantly reduces shrink in storage and transport, slows the rate of oxidation, and helps fruits maintain their desired color and taste for longer, said Rogers, who has argued that if you could quadruple the shelf-life of fresh produce, you could potentially eliminate the use of preservatives, controlled atmosphere, fungicides and potentially even refrigerated transport, altogether. (Right now, the shelf life extension is in the order of 2x+.)
Millions of avocados saved every year
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA this week, he also noted that as produce is often sold by weight, partners using Apeel coatings stand to gain from juicier, weightier fruits that have not lost as much moisture, providing additional cost advantages.
"It's a huge benefit. Partners just have money and quality evaporating [as produce loses moisture]. It's just like us, you're not at your best when you're dehydrated."
He added: "95% of asparagus coming out of Peru today is airfreighted into the US. With Apeel, we're now able to send that via sea freight, and that's the type of transformational change that this technology is capable of."
Kroger, meanwhile, had seen the benefits of working with Apeel through trials in recent months that significantly reduced waste, he said: "That translates to millions of avocados saved every year."
Apeel is now having conversations with other major retailers and produce suppliers and will be "making some exciting announcements" on that front shortly.
Right now, the biggest opportunity for Apeel is in fresh produce, but the technology has also been tested sucessfully on a range of other foods including meat, cheeses, cut fruit and veg, he added. "They all spoil through water loss and oxidation, so we're constantly exploring the boundaries of where this technology can be used."
“Produce is a living, breathing thing, even after it’s picked. The trick is to maintain as much moisture as possible and maintain a very delicate balance between the rate of oxygen getting in and the rate of carbon dioxide getting out. If you cut down the oxygen too much, the fruit won’t develop appropriately and it will develop off flavors, and if you don’t cut down the oxygen enough, you’ll have no impact.”
James Rogers, PhD, founder and CEO, Apeel Sciences
UK retailer ASDA tests Apeel on clementines, cucumbers
"At the moment we’re running just a small trial [with clementines] to test how Apeel performs throughout the entire supply chain and what impact it has on shelf life. We’ve been keeping a close eye on the shipment from the extra peel being applied at our growers’ site in South America to it arriving in the UK and have taken some samples to test how it performs under a variety of different scenarios and conditions.
Increasing shelf life means our customers can enjoy fresher produce for longer, so we’re really excited about the potential of Apeel. It’s the first time that this type of technology has been used in the UK and it’s great to be leading the charge.
Should it be a success, not only could it reduce food waste and allow customers to enjoy fresher produce for longer, there are also some other potential benefits. For instance, because the extra peel protects the fruit from spoilage for longer, there is a lower need for pesticides and other post-harvest treatments.
It could also reduce the amount of packaging that is required to prolong shelf life. For example... we’ve been doing some behind-closed-doors tests on how it performs on cucumbers. The results have been really promising, seeing shelf lives increasing even on cucumbers left unwrapped.
Nasir Ahmed, produce technical manager, ASDA (read more HERE)