Traditionally, the plastic wrap serves as a protective layer, preserving quality and shelf life. English cucumbers coated in Apeel, however, do not require a plastic wrapper and last as long as those that do, removing thousands of pounds of plastic that would otherwise get thrown into landfill.
For every 500,000 cases shipped, Houweling’s and Apeel will eliminate the equivalent of 820,000 single use plastic water bottles out of the supply chain and ultimately out of landfill, claimed Houweling’s CMO David Bell, who said the pilot (in around 100 stores) was driven by consumer demand to cut packaging waste.
“When surveying the cucumber consumer, we heard loud and clear the desire to avoid single-use plastics. This echoed the direct requests we hear from consumers and retail partners around removing the plastic. Quite simply, it wasn’t possible until we found Apeel.”
Colorless, odorless, tasteless: ‘We use food to preserve food’
Supplied as a powder that can be mixed with water and sprayed onto produce or used as a dip, Apeel is made from plant extracts (primarily lipids from agricultural by-products such as tomato skins and seeds) which self-assemble into structures - an edible ‘skin’ of consistent thickness - that allow Apeel to independently modulate the rate of oxygen and carbon dioxide transmission to create an optimized microclimate. Put more simply, they keep moisture in, and oxygen out.
The lipid content does not, however, make Apeel waxy or greasy. Indeed, the primary attraction to retailers is that Apeel is both ‘all-natural’ and invisible: it’s colorless, odorless, tasteless and undetectable on produce (no sticky or waxy residue), says founder and CEO Dr James Rogers. “You can’t see it, smell it, taste it, or feel it. And it’s just plants. We use food to preserve food.”
Kroger, Edeka, Salling Group
US retail partners include Kroger, Walmart, Harps Food Stores and Martin’s, while overseas retailers include Edeka in Germany and Salling Group in Denmark, said Rogers, who said US retailers using Apeel typically see a 50% reduction in shrink, 5-10% growth in dollar sales, and an incremental 10% growth in dollar sales when they use instore marketing campaigns educating shoppers about Apeel’s benefits.
In the case of long English cucumbers, applying Apeel means firms can ditch the plastic shrink-wrap; while for asparagus, the extra shelf-life (Apeel slows the rate of water loss by up to 50%) means it can travel by sea instead of air, without the use of controlled atmosphere, reducing costs.
Avocados treated with Apeel have up to 50% longer shelf life, slashing retailers’ shrink and giving consumers more time to enjoy them at peak ripeness; while for limes, Apeel can triple shelf life, giving growers and distributors access to new markets, said Rogers.
The disruption caused by COVID-19 on fresh produce supply chains has further highlighted the benefits of a product that can extend the shelf-life of perishable fruits and vegetables, many of which ended up rotting in the early days and weeks of the pandemic as there was not sufficient time to divert products from foodservice into retail supply chains, added Rogers in a recent interview with FoodNavigator-USA.
For produce that is already sold in stores, having a longer shelf life is a key benefit when consumers are making fewer larger, trips, said Rogers, who founded the business in 2012 with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and secured a letter of no objection from the FDA to his GRAS determination for Apeel in 2016.
"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.”
Dr James Rogers, founder and CEO, Apeel Sciences