In an interview, Dr. James Rogers, founder and CEO of the American company Apeel Sciences, talks about edible protective coatings on food. The coating product Apeel keeps avocados, citrus fruits and other types of fruit fresh for twice as long as usual with a non-flavored edible coating made from plant-based materials, explains Rogers.
Food technicians have long been working on how to improve the shelf life, consistency and taste of fruit and vegetables to reduce spoilage and to save on packaging material. In addition, a recent UN study has shown that during production 14 percent of all foods worldwide are “lost” or spoil too quickly. Reasons for this include errors in harvesting, transport and storage.
The latest concept to make food more durable in a natural way is called coating. Fruit and field crops are given a wafer-thin, edible coating that reduces cellular respiration. This keeps the fruit fresh for longer. The Rewe Group is already testing the “coating” as the first retailer in Germany to do so. It would initially like to determine the efficiency of this process. In the USA, this process was the first to be tested and is already in use. Since the EU gave a green light for coating a few months ago, it has also been a topic in the retail trade in Germany. In the test phase the Rewe Group is working with the British manufacturer AgriCoat NatureSeal. The US company Apeel Sciences would also like to make its way onto the German market. Apeel products will soon also be available to German consumers too. According to information from packaging 360°, Apeel avocados will be available in selected stores of a major German retailer from mid-December 2019 onwards. In Germany, the products with Apeel are to bear the Apeel logo on the corresponding label and/or on the signs and labelling in the store.
Apeel Sciences was founded in 2012 by James Rogers together with Jenny Du and Louis Perez with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in order to reduce post-harvest food losses in developing countries that do not have access to refrigeration. The company was honored with a Technology Pioneer Award at the 2018 World Economic Forum. Alongside the Gates Foundation, investors include the UK Government Department for International Development and the Rockefeller Foundation.
The coating product Apeel is based on lipids and is produced from plant-based materials contained in the peels, seeds and flesh of edible fruits and vegetables. Apeel keeps the moisture in the product and hinders the penetration of oxygen. This slows down the spoilage of the fruit.
Why is Apeel Sciences so certain that the process really is helpful against food waste?
James Rogers: Apeel’s technology is a plant-based post-harvest solution to the problem of food waste that creates an optimal microclimate in fruit and vegetables and benefits everyone along the entire supply chain. To put it simply, Apeel uses food to preserve food, maintain product quality, shelf life and transportability from farm to fork. This starts already with the supplier, who is given more control: The fruit can be harvested fully ripe and is preserved with the help of Apeel. With twice to three times the shelf life for many product types, suppliers can ship the food flexibly or gain access to new markets with longer shelf lives. Furthermore, Apeel reduces food waste and retail waste. Retail programs for Apeel-coated avocados in the U.S. have shown sales growth of 10 percent and an average retail waste reduction of 50 percent. And finally, Apeel helps consumers to enjoy for longer and throw less away. Shoppers bring home fruits that they have more time to eat. Overall, they waste less food and less money.
The shelf life is said to be drastically extended: What types of fruit and vegetables does this statement refer to? For what varieties are there not yet any reliable statements and for what fruits does the process not work at all?
Apeel is currently used in the USA for avocados and limes. In trials we have found that the shelf life of many fruit and vegetable types has doubled to tripled. How long the shelf life is extended depends, among other things, on the type of product, its age and the conditions to which it is subjected along the supply chain.
Can this natural protective layer also eliminate the need for pesticides?
Apeel’s edible “peel”, applied to the outer peel of fruit and vegetables, helps retain moisture and prevent oxidation, which is the main cause of spoilage. This helps to maintain the quality of the products and could make it possible to reduce dependence on other inputs in the supply chain over time.