Apeel Sciences has developed an innovative preservation technique that extends produce shelf life and cuts waste.
The California-based company produces a coating based on the 'thin polymeric barrier' that plants evolved to protect themselves as they advanced from water- to land-based organisms.
Having isolated these molecules, Apeel was able to turn them into a water-soluble powder-based preservative. Fruit and vegetable producers can then mix the powder with water and coat produce in the taste- and texture-neutral liquid. This process can double – or even quadruple – the shelf life of fresh produce, according to the company.
Chief executive James Rogers’ characterises this approach as ‘nature’s solution’ to food waste.
“When we use nature's solutions to solve food waste, everyone benefits: food retailers, shoppers and ultimately, the environment,” he noted.
Edeka test cuts waste, lifts sales
Apeel’s solution caught the attention of German retail group Edeka, which launched an extensive pilot test during the first half of 2020.
Avocados from Chile and Peru treated with Apeel were offered at around 2,900 Edeka and Netto Marken-Discount stores across Germany.
Over a period of twelve weeks, write-off rates (shrinkage and food loss), sales and turnover values were tracked. The results, according to the company, have been a resounding success.
Edeka reported a 50% reduction in avocado food waste, a ‘significant increase’ in sales and ‘greater customer satisfaction’ levels.
Apeel helped pilot stores achieve 20% growth in avocado sales. Edeka said this was due to both selling more avocados that would have otherwise gone to waste as well as increased customer demand.
Higher demand and satisfaction levels were attributed to the quality improvement that Apeel’s plant-based technology delivers, meaning that treated avocados retain moisture while reducing oxidation, which ensures longer-lasting freshness throughout the natural ripening process and longer overall shelf life.
The promising performance prompted Edeka to roll out Apeel’s longer-lasting avocados and citrus fruit - oranges and clementines - to more than 11,000 Edeka and Netto stores throughout Germany.
“With the nationwide launch of Apeel in our stores, we are reaching a new milestone in our goal of reducing food waste and the use of plastic packaging step-by-step,” explained Markus Mosa, CEO of Hamburg-based Edeka. “We also support our shoppers to make an active contribution themselves to prevent valuable food in the household from ending up in the garbage bin.”
An ‘age of sustainability’
Approximately one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted according to the United Nations. Edeka noted that fruit and vegetables account for the majority of food waste, 34%, most of which occurs in the home.
Food waste also has a significant environmental impact. More food reaches landfill and incinerates than any other waste stream, according to estimates from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Food waste is the third largest producer of methane gas, behind China and the USA, making it an important contributor to global warming.
But Rogers is buoyant about the results seen in Germany, suggesting that new solutions and approaches could help to move the needle on food waste.
“Apeel’s food waste reduction results at Edeka suggest that we're entering an age of sustainability where there’s alignment between businesses and doing the right thing for the planet. Solving food waste goes beyond a better bottom line: it's now understood to be the number one way to fight climate change,” he enthused.
Edeka and Apeel are planning to introduce additional categories in the future, subject to approval from EU food safety authorities.