What happens when the next generation of top scientists gets together to solve the world's biggest problems? Apeel Sciences happens.
With Earth's increasing population comes an urgent need for more energy, water and food. The UN estimates we'll need 60 percent more food and 55 percent more water within 35 years.
We're already pretty maxed out. Globally, we now use 80 percent of our freshwater supplies and 30 percent of our energy resources to produce the food we need. And despite our best efforts, lack of nutrition is still the leading cause of child deaths.
Modern agricultural practices have optimized yields for both organic and conventional growers. But there are limits, and most parts of the world simply don't have more land or water available to start new farms.
Humanity clearly faces big challenges—challenges to our very existence. But as our consciousness of these problems increases, so does our ability to imagine new solutions.
Wasted Food: A Different Approach
Here in the United States, we throw away 28 percent of all the food we buy, and fresh produce items are the most perishable. Twenty-one percent of our landfill waste stream is methane-emitting rotten food. In developing countries that don't have refrigerated trucks or storage facilities, it's even worse because food spoils even faster—often before ever reaching the consumer.
All food products—especially healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables—face that same inevitable, merciless fate: spoilage. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 45 percent of all food produced worldwide is ultimately lost due to spoilage. That's about $1 trillion in losses every year.
"It makes absolutely no sense to spend all our resources producing food, and then to throw half of it away. Apeel is a solution that will truly help reduce our food loss and food waste."
Jason Spievak, Apeel Chief Commercial Officer
Our efforts to preserve food have taken over-packaging to extremes worthy of ridicule (consider pre-peeled bananas wrapped in plastic, for example), messy solutions like waxed fruit, and overuse of fungicides, pesticides and other chemicals. Better solutions have evaded us ... until now.
This is probably why Apeel Sciences' unique, nature-based approach to reducing postharvest loss (PHL) is being so well received by retailers, growers, and pretty much anyone who hears about it.
It doesn't hurt that Apeel's plant-based PHL formula, Apeel, is in fact edible. It's made from the exact same plant molecules we eat every time we eat any fruit or vegetable.
"The impact of improved quality and availability of the daily food supply for billions of people is practically incalculable."
Dr. Chance Holland, Director of Product Development
The Seed of an Ecoscience Revolution
In 2012, James Rogers had an idea. Since biological and physical stressors attack the surface of fruit and cause mold, drying, bruising and decay, there needs to be a way to protect the skin or peel without using chemicals. What if we could extract the "peel" material from all the unused parts of plants, like stems and leaves, and apply an ultra-thin layer to reinforce the surface of produce?
A materials scientist, James applied the idea with astonishing success. After winning the prestigious Frank J. Padden Jr. Award for his research at UC Santa Barbara, James formed a super-team to spearhead a new organic approach that would propel the greatest food tech revolution since refrigeration.
Working under a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the team created a water-soluble, plant-based solution that keeps fruits and vegetables fresher longer, without chemicals. That enables better tasting, more nutritious produce to travel further without spoilage.
Imagining a Future of Abundance
Apeel's plant-based technology delivers results by dramatically extending the edible and marketable shelf life of fresh produce. Equally important for any tech is its feasibility. Real-world implementation requires the availability of raw materials to create and deploy the products inexpensively, and on a scale large enough to make a difference.
Since the sole ingredient in Apeel—molecules found in plants—can be extracted from any kind of plant biomass, this technology is not only feasible, it shifts the paradigm in how food can be produced, transported and stored.
For the producers and retailers of fresh fruits and vegetables, that means less loss due to spoilage, and higher-quality produce with a longer marketable shelf life. In developing countries where fresh produce is purchased at outdoor markets, Apeel can provide new opportunities for small family farmers who lose much of their harvests to spoilage before it can be sold.
And for those of us who like our food fresh, it means better-tasting, more nutritious food without chemicals ... and with less waste.
"Apeel technology is about more than economics or environment or saving resources. It ultimately means we'll have better, more natural food, and more people will be able to eat."
James Rogers, Apeel CEO
Apeel's VP of Operations, Dr. Jenny Du; VP of Technology, Dr. Louis Perez; and CEO Dr. James Rogers.
Apeel Sciences' Dr. CEO James Rogers (left) with science team leaders Dr. Chance Holland, Director of Product Development (center), and Dr. Charles Frazier (right), Director of Formulation Sciences.