Food waste is a pressing global problem. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that about one-third of global food produced for human consumption is wasted every year, adding up to roughly 1.3 billion tons annually. Fresh foods — specifically fruit and vegetables — are one of the most common edible items to end up in landfills.
Keeping produce fresh as it travels across the supply chain is a difficult endeavor. The many touch points along that journey make it challenging to efficiently monitor which produce is ripening when, and which retailers should receive it. With COVID-19 causing disruptions across the entire food system, from farms to processors to retailers and restaurants, managing fresh produce has become even harder.
Suppliers, especially large warehouse distributors, have several strategies they currently use to extend the lifespan of produce. One is refrigeration. Produce can be stored in cold warehouses to slow down the ripening process and make it last longer. Another is to install vents in the warehouses to remove ethylene, the gas that causes fruit to ripen, from storage. Some warehouses even use gases like nitrogen and sulphur to counteract the effects of ethylene, thus keeping fruit preserved in an unripe state until they’re ready to ship to retailers. Some fruits, like lemons and apples, are also coated in an artificial wax to keep them from rotting.
All of these solutions have their drawbacks. Vents are expensive to install, using gases to regulate ethylene is not proven to be effective, and artificial wax is unappetizing. Regulating produce freshness at warehouses also does not help once that fruit or vegetable has left the supplier and is sitting on a retail shelf or in a consumer kitchen.
However, over the past several years, innovators have begun experimenting with new ways to extend the lifespan of fresh produce. These solutions are meant to be a more sustainable, healthy, and versatile alternative to current practices used in warehouses.
This report is available to subscribers of Spoon Plus, includes analysis of key players Apeel, Sufresca, Stixfresh, and Hazel Technologies, a look at opportunities in this fast-changing space, the impact of COVID and a look forward at what’s next.
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