A startup called Apeel has just secured $33 million in funding, according to a blog post by the company's founder and CEO.
Apeel’s products—Edipeel and Invisipeel—are part of a new wave of products that are targeting at least three major problems in the food production system: food spoilage, excess use of plastic, and agricultural waste. And they’re doing that by making your blueberries taste better.
These products are essentially extremely thin, transparent, flavorless coatings that can be applied to food that spoils quickly, especially fruits and vegetables. The coating, which is made of a variety of agricultural waste products (grape skins, the inedible parts of the broccoli stem near the root—that kind of thing), is designed to prevent airflow to the produce, which in turn prevents bacteria and fungus from rotting the food.
We’ve seen similar ideas before, like this milk-based packaging, but investors are betting on Apeel’s subtler, more food-specific treatments. The company produces different coatings for different foods; an avocado, for example, doesn’t deteriorate in the same way as a blueberry, and so needs a different type of coating.
Food treated with Apeel’s products have remarkable staying power: according to the company, the coating can keep strawberries, bananas, and other quick-spoiling foods fresh and ripe for a whopping 10 days or more.
If Apeel’s products become widely used, which is still a big “if,” they have some pretty amazing potential. Fruit and vegetables can be picked much nearer to, or at, peak ripeness: currently, fruits like tomatoes and blueberries are harvested while underripe and exposed to gases that hurry the ripening process along, which allows for the time it takes to ship the fruits from the farm to the consumer. But that leads in part to lousy-tasting produce, and because ripening isn’t always uniform, there will always be a significant loss as some items over-ripen.
The coating also could negate the need for plastic wrapping, which can serve a similar purpose, but which requires petroleum to produce and doesn’t easily break down. By using agricultural waste products, Apeel solves both of those problems.
The wider issue is preventing food loss, which we’ve called “the next great food revolution.” With around half of the world’s food thrown out due to spoilage and infrastructure issues, a system that can add a little bit of leeway to the ripening process could be a game-changer. That is, if customers don’t mind eating food coated with a transparent skin of broccoli stems.