The 100 people who work in one sprawling, corporate office building near Santa Barbara, California, are literally giving new life to produce. They work for Apeel Sciences, a startup that produces a plant-based coating for produce that the company says extends the shelf life of fruits and veggies by weeks and sometimes even doubles it.
James Rogers founded Apeel when he was still a PhD student in Materials Science at UC Santa Barbara. Back then, he knew a lot about polymer physics but little about produce.
Says Rogers, “I called my mom to tell her about this idea, and she says, ‘it sounds nice, but you don’t know anything about fruits and vegetables.”
But rogers went ahead with his idea anyway and it proved fruitful. Today, Apeel is backed by some of tech’s top investors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And now, Apeel-coated avocados will be in select Costco stores across the country.
Rogers says retailers who use the product can dramatically reduce supply chain costs by reducing food waste, which one study says costs U.S. retailers $18 billion dollars a year.
Rogers says, “At the store level, this is one of the biggest challenges that most retailers face is the amount of shrink that they see on the shelves.”
The coating is made of the peel of fruits and vegetables. It starts out as a powder, but then mixes with water to become a solution into which produce is dipped. Rogers says the coating strengthens the existing peel of the produce, which helps it last longer in your fridge.
Rogers claims, “We’re slowing down the rate the clock is ticking.”
But there are obstacles. While the FDA says Apeel’s invisible and tasteless coating is “Generally recognized as safe”, we talked to some customers skeptical of biting into a piece of fruit dipped into a solution, natural or not.
Jean-Pierre Fuque is skeptical. “I would just get it from a tree.”
Another customre, Jennifer, says “Even if it’s natural, etc, I don’t understand why you would just bring something else into the mix.”
Rogers answers those critics by urging them to take a bite for themselves before making a decision. As for the cost of those Apeel avocados on Costco shelves? The company says they will be the same price as regular ones.
Because the decreased food waste costs will allow the retailer to pick up the tab on the difference in price and still come out ahead.