Photo courtesy Apeel Sciences.
Apeel Sciences, a materials technology company whose edible coatings keep produce fresher longer, announced US$250 million in new funding. Investors include Oprah Winfrey; singer Katy Perry; GIC, the sovereign wealth fund of the government of Singapore; and several other venture capital and investment firms.
By extending the shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables, Apeel hopes to reduce the amount of food wasted globally and help smallholder farmers sell produce to further-away markets and avoid food insecurity.
This funding round means Apeel is worth more than US$1 billion, a milestone for the company that James Rogers founded while still pursuing his doctoral degree in materials science at the University of California-Santa Barbara. The company says a portion of the funding will propel its efforts to use Apeel as a replacement for cold-chain infrastructure in places without it. In parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Central and South America, for example, crops can spoil in the heat before being sold internationally.
“There are about 12 fruits and vegetables that make up two-thirds of our purchases in the grocery store, and the reason for that is those fruits and vegetables have the most transportability,” Rogers, Apeel’s CEO, said at Food Tank’s New York City Summit in 2019. “If you grow something and it only lasts for a day, your total market is everyone that lives within a day. If you grow something and work with a company like Apeel, and create that transportability in something that’s naturally delicious, now you’ve made more investment in biodiversity and new flavors in the food system.”
Apeel is a protective layer for produce that’s designed to act as a second peel or rind, controlling the rate that oxygen and moisture can pass in and out. The edible coating is made from plant-derived materials, compatible with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic certification, and designated “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Apeel estimates that treated crops last two to three times longer than untreated ones, saving resources that would have been used for trashed fruit. In October 2019, Apeel conducted a life cycle assessment of its coated produce and found that, per kilogram, Apeel avocados required 23 liters less water and produced 30 grams fewer greenhouse gas emissions. All six crops the company assessed—avocados, limes, asparagus, apples, mandarin oranges, and cucumbers—were associated with lower water use and emissions.
As the world population grows to nearly 10 billion people by 2050, per a 2019 United Nations report, our food system will need to feed more people without using up more resources, Rogers says.
“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,” Rogers told Food Tank in 2017. “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.”
The company says that, for retailers in the United States and Europe, this mission has been a success. Apeel produce is sold in Kroger and Harps Food Stores in the U.S.; Edeka, Germany’s largest supermarket corporation; and Salling Group, the largest retailer in Denmark. And according to Apeel figures, U.S. retailers that sell Apeel-coated produce see 50 percent lower loss in product inventory and a 5–10 percent growth in revenue.
“The combination of the ability to bring fresh fruits and vegetables into your home and not stress about throwing them away, and the discovery element of new things nature is providing us to taste and enjoy — I think that’s how we get to a plant-based food system that people are excited about,” Rogers said at the Food Tank Summit.