Apeel Sciences in Santa Barbara, California, is taking unused parts of plants—peels, rinds, the leftovers of the system—and recycling them to create two agriculture products: Invisipeel and Edipeel. With these products, the company seeks to reduce food waste, conserve energy, decrease water usage, and minimize the application of pesticides and chemical preservatives.
Invisipeel protects crops before harvest while Edipeel is applied post-harvest to extend the shelf life of fresh foods by two to five times. Since bacteria, fungi, and insects identify food sources by recognizing specific molecules, Invisipeel is an ultra-thin layer of unfamiliar molecules, rendering these foods unrecognizable to pests. Edipeel works because it forms an ultra-thin barrier that slows water loss and oxidation in fresh produce, the two leading causes of spoilage.
Apeel Sciences says that Edipeel was successfully tested in field trials and commercial applications in 2016. It also received approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Although selected growers and producers are beginning to use the Edipeel product, more tests need to be done to distribute Invisipeel commercially.
According to Apeel Sciences, both Invisipeel and Edipeel are odorless, tasteless, and imperceptible natural plant extracts. Plus, they preserve the flavor, nutrition, and appearance of produce. Look at the comparison of ten-day-old organic bananas. The bananas with the Edipeel coating stayed yellow while the other one turned brown.
Food Tank had the chance to speak with Dr. James Rogers, who founded Apeel Sciences. He guides corporate strategy while overseeing the company’s research and development efforts.
Food Tank (FT): Why were you inspired to discover technological solutions to agricultural processes?
Dr. James Rogers (JR): When I was working on my PhD at UC Berkeley, I made regular commutes from Santa Barbara to Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. One day, driving through the Salinas “Salad Bowl,” I took a moment to admire abundant fields all around me and wondered how there could be so many hungry people on this planet if we have the ability to grow so much food?
This question gnawed at me, and I eventually discovered that the problem wasn’t in our ability to grow fresh produce. The problem was keeping it viable and storing and transporting it after harvest to where it needed to be consumed.
Natural spoilage is the leading culprit in the global food waste crisis. By 2050, we’ll need an estimated 60 percent more food and 55 percent more water to feed the people of the world. With a staggering amount of produce grown in developing countries lost to spoilage, the ability to extend the shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables has never been more important. If growing more food isn’t a viable option, then salvaging more of what’s grown is a better solution for sustainably feeding the people of the world in the future. If we can slow down the rate that produce spoils, we can get more fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables to more people around the world, so fewer people are hungry. This mindset has been Apeel’s mission since day one.
FT: How did your relationship with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation begin?
JR: Apeel Sciences was founded in 2012 with grant funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We have a mutual goal of reducing hunger and poverty for millions of farming families and doing so in a sustainable way. Our plant-based, edible solution to extending the lifespan of fresh food made Apeel a natural partner for the Foundation’s agricultural development program, which focuses on eliminating starvation and malnutrition in developing countries. With the early support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we’ve been able to work with smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and develop products that increase the lifespan of important crops like the cassava root in Nigeria and mangos in Kenya. Philanthropic work in developing regions of the world will continue to be a priority for us.
FT: What are Apeel Sciences’ plans to expand and succeed in 2017?
JR: We recently closed US$33 million in Series B financing led by Andreessen Horowitz and DBL Partners, which will be used to continue our mission to feed the people of the world sustainably. We are working to get our products to market so growers and producers of all kinds can start using them to increase the shelf life of their fresh produce. Production will be ramped up significantly next quarter, and we will start making our products more widely available during the latter half of 2017.
FT: How will the average consumer be assured that fruits and vegetables coated with your product are safe to eat?
JR: Fruits and vegetables treated with Apeel’s products are safe to eat because Apeel’s products are made entirely out of FDA-approved food we eat every day. Apeel’s products are designated by the FDA as Generally Recognized as Safe to eat (“GRAS”), which is the same designation that fruits and vegetables like apples and tomatoes receive. Simply put, we are using food to preserve food. Apeel’s plant extract solutions are a better, safer, healthier alternative to fungicides, waxes, and other chemical products.
FT: Usually, growers harvest fruits and vegetables prematurely to account for transportation and distribution time. What are your plans to educate farmers and producers about how Edipeel and Invisipeel will change their workflow?
JR: We want to make it possible for produce to be picked ripe and reach the consumer while ripe for the first time. Ripe fruits and vegetables have the best taste and nutrition, and being able to offer a product harvested at peak ripeness gives growers and producers a competitive advantage. To make ripe produce a reality for consumers, we designed our products to fit within existing workflows seamlessly. Our natural protective formulas can be mixed with water and applied in several ways, including spray, dip, and brush-on methods, making it easy for growers and producers to integrate our products into established workflows.
FT: What types of recycled plant materials are best suited for your Edipeel and Invisipeel products?
JR: Edipeel and Invisipeel can be made from any kind of produce, including but not limited to grape pressings, orange peels, tomato skins, watermelon rinds, broccoli stalks, and more. Basically, we use the natural plant products that get left behind on the farm.
FT: While sustainability can be a buzzword for many people, why is sustainability important to Apeel Sciences?
JR: Sustainability is mission-critical to us because we believe it’s the best way to feed the people of the world, now and in the future as the population grows. By 2050, we’ll need to feed about 2.3 billion more people, yet we currently lose about half of all food grown to natural spoilage. By extending the shelf life of fruits and vegetables by using food, we can salvage more of the food that we’re already growing. Beyond more available food supply, we’ll reduce reliance on chemicals in the growing process, lessen humanity’s impact on the environment, and unlock economic opportunities for growers and producers big and small. This goal encompasses the 500 million smallholder farms worldwide, which are mostly located in developing countries. To meet the needs of a growing planet, we believe Apeel is the cheapest, easiest and safest way to create more food.