As a consumer, there are many foods which I personally find frustratingly difficult to purchase and store without issues – today’s perfectly soft-but-firm avocado is tomorrow’s oxidized and mushy mess! Slowing down the ripening process can widen the time window by many times. For a business, when it comes to delaying spoilage of fresh produce, the reasons to engage are many, ranging from the lofty, like reducing global hunger and mitigating food waste, to the more concrete, like improving margins for producers and reducing costs for consumers.
Produce ripens in large part due to the effects of a phytohormone called ethylene – and ethylene’s ripening effects are similar across essentially all edible crops. There are really two approaches open to you if you wish to slow down nature’s seemingly inexorable march to over-ripeness: absorb the ethylene before it can act or protect the produce from absorbing it. As a bonus, coating produce can also protect it from surface damage, oxidation, and dehydration. Most major players have developed wax-based coatings, with AgroFresh, Pace International, and Decco as leaders in that space.
Taxonomy from Analyst Insight: "Have your coating and eat it too: The landscape of edible coatings for fresh produce" by Harini Venkataraman
Start-ups are taking more creative approaches in terms of coating materials, with various biopolymers featuring prominently. One such creative developer is Apeel Sciences, a company we’ve been following since 2014. Our most recent interview in 2018 revealed a company poised at the point of commercial traction – which it’s now seeing as it makes headlines rolling out its coating solution for avocado, lime, and asparagus in US Kroger grocery stores. Hailed as “super avocados” in the press, it’s clear the company is targeting a legitimate unmet need in the space. What’s not clear is how well the bio-based coatings – produced from agricultural waste starting materials – compete against other options in terms of shelf life extension. Cambridge Crops is another developer, working with silk fibroin as its starting material, and Startchy is making a starch-based bioplastic coating which it claims can also be flavored.
The hype around Apeel is alluring – and the promise of avocados with a longer shelf life is a big draw – but don’t be fooled into thinking the approach is wholly new or unique – shop around before diving in on any shelf life extension approach!
- Company Profile: Apeel Sciences (Members Only)
- News Commentary: Cambridge Crops raises $4 million in seed funding for its edible coating
- Analyst Insight: Have your coating and eat it too: The landscape of edible coatings for fresh produce (Members Only)
- Company Snapshot: Cambridge Crops (Members Only)