The supply chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic drove home the need to find new ways to help keep foods — perishable foods in particular — fresh and safe.

One of the best ways to do that with fresh fruits and vegetables? Shelf life-extending technology.

This spring, Vancouver, Canada-based Oppy completed a trial of a new shelf life extension technology created by Chicago-based Hazel Technologies Inc.

The object: greener and more turgid stems of grapes, with no signs of shriveling, and to maintain superior storage life under transit and warehouse conditions. 

Garland Perkins, Oppy’s senior manager for innovation and insight, said the company is still conducting several trials with Hazel Tech — and other shelf life-extending specialists —and is seeing considerable interest from retailers and others in the market for practical and effective shelf life extension solutions.

“The positive reaction reflects the importance of reducing food waste and spoilage to the industry as a whole, as well as delivering even better quality fruit to retailers and consumers,” Perkins said. “Ultimately, there has to be a business reason for deploying the technology, meaning we go after problems to solve, rather than try to force the technology when there really isn’t an obvious opportunity.”

Given Oppy’s involvement throughout the entire supply chain, from growing to distributing and marketing, the company is fortunate to have a good idea of where the biggest problems and opportunities are, she added.

Vapor power

Hazel’s technology uses grape sachets that release active, shelf life-enhancing vapors to slow food waste during transit and storage. Oppy's trial with the new product was conducted with seedless red grapes and carried out using pallets that were shipped from South America to Los Angeles.

Some of the grapes were treated with the grape sachets, others weren’t. Upon arrival, the treated grapes had a crisper texture, showed no signs of dehydration, were greener and looked stronger than the untreated fruit. 

The Oppy/Hazel collaboration won’t be limited to just grapes, Perkins said.

“We are working with Hazel to apply their technology across Oppy’s diverse product offerings and have carried out trials with various fruit and vegetables,” she said.

Oppy also has many other shelf-life tests scheduled for this year and for 2021. Perkins said the company is gathering expertise about how to best align the right technology with its products so it can offer solutions across the supply chain.

COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the benefits of long shelf life products, a fact that an abundance of data has already backed up, Perkins said.

“While that has traditionally meant frozen and canned foods, more perishable foods can potentially be included in this category thanks to shelf life-extension technology,” she said.

Regardless of the current circumstances, when consumers purchase quality product that tastes good they tend to make more repeat purchases, meaning the more companies like Oppy can use solutions like SLE to provide retailers with high-quality, long-shelf life products, the more consumers will come back for repeat purchases, Perkins added.

Profit and principle

While the pandemic has brought these issues to the forefront, it’s always been a long-term focus area for Oppy — rightfully so, Perkins said, as food wastage is not only a matter of profit but also of principle. 

In the U.S. alone, about 30% of all food that is harvested is thrown away, often due to early spoilage. By reducing spoilage during transport and storage, suppliers, farmers, and retailers all ultimately benefit by having more product available to the market. There’s also the significant environmental factor related to food waste as well, which would be mitigated by this technology. 

“Consumers’ shopping habits will continue to change as the situation progresses, develops and matures,” she said. “So what’s needed now more than ever is a long-term commitment and approach to shelf life extension generally, and innovation especially. It also opens up the possibility of bringing new products to the North American market that otherwise might not have been feasible – products, for instance, that are typically too fragile to survive the transit time.”

In addition, shelf life technology also has the potential of enabling some growers to alter their harvest or handling practices slightly in order to offer a better-tasting product to the marketplace. And consumers will take notice of the extended shelf life once the product is in their homes, thereby increasing their confidence in the lasting-ability of fruits and vegetables and hopefully increasing their purchases as a result. 

“Oppy is thrilled to be collaborating with partners throughout the supply chain to test this new and exciting technology,” Perkins said. “We look forward to continuing to bring innovative solutions to retailers and growers using shelf life extension technology and more, in the future.” 

“Oppy enjoys an excellent reputation in the market for its unrivalled level of quality control, thanks to our commitment to innovation and technology across our operations,” said Patricio Mendoza, national quality control manager at Oppy. “The success of this trial is a reflection of our ongoing, focused efforts in being first to market with pioneering technology that adds tangible value to retailers and consumers alike.” 

The results of the trial suggest that Hazel’s technology is effective on varieties with drier stems, but further studies will be needed to explore broader applications of the product, according to Oppy. 

“Our Hazel for grape partnership with Oppy, the largest importer of  South American grapes, demonstrates how impactful our technologies can be in improving sales, reducing food waste, and providing a better eating experience across the globe for consumers of fresh table grapes,” said Aidan Mouat, chief executive officer at Hazel Tech. 

Apeel: new customers, new applications

Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Apeel Sciences continues to grow both nationally and internationally, as the company adds new customers for its produce shelf life-extending technology, said Michelle Masek, Apeel’s spokesperson.

“Following our December 2019 launch introducing Apeel avocados into Europe, EDEKA and Netto expanded to their next category, with Apeel oranges and mandarins the following month in January — a sign of momentum with shopper acceptance and excitement for Apeel,” Masek said. “We’re proud to support our retail customers’ efforts to promote sustainability and address their shoppers’ concerns around food waste.”

Edeka, a German retailer, and Netto, a German discounter, are the latest grocery chains to utilize Apeel’s technology, which adds an extra “peel” to the surface of fruits and vegetables to slow water loss and oxidation.

Those new partnerships, Masek said, signal Apeel’s retailer partners’ commitments to reducing waste while simultaneously enabling customers to enjoy fresh, high-quality produce with a longer edible shelf life.

“More and more people are getting access to Apeel produce,” she said. “The demand for Apeel is growing and we are, too.”  

In early April, Apeel announced a partnership with Wenatchee, Wash.-based Starr Ranch Growers to extend the shelf life and improve the overall quality of the company’s organic apples.

By extending the amount of time organic apples can stay in cold storage, growers and shippers gain greater operational efficiency with higher packouts, less repack and improved inventory management, Masek said.  Apeel technology also helps maintain the brix/acid ratios in apples, which means a better product experience for shoppers.

“Through this partnership, organic apples can be stored and sold year-round, creating value throughout the supply chain,” she said.

Looking ahead to the second half of 2020, Apeel is working to extend its reach into new categories, Masek said.  

Apeel believes that the importance of extending the shelf life of fresh produce is perhaps more important than ever. The company remains committed to providing its partners with access to its plant-derived technology extending the shelf life of produce.

Protecting the food supply

“We believe it plays an important role in supporting a global food supply chain that has experienced major disruptions in recent months due to COVID-19,” Masek said. “Understanding the resources and functions required to grow, produce and move produce through the system has made the need to safeguard our precious food supply more apparent than ever.”

By enabling more time, access and freshness across the supply chain, Apeel’s technology extends value and increases operational flexibility for suppliers and retailers. Additionally, shoppers who are more cognizant of their own at-home food supply can bring home high-quality produce with a longer window to enjoy it.

In the coming weeks, Apeel expects to announce news related to Apeel’s efforts to improve resilience throughout the supply chain. In the meantime, Masek said, all of the company’s operations are continuing to function, and Apeel is working to meet the needs of its retailers across the globe.  

“Retailers are continuing to see less shrink, higher sales and happier shoppers. Selling Apeel produce does not require any operational change on the retailer’s end, but it does offer a unique opportunity to merchandise in new ways,” she said. “Longer lasting fruit means you have the capability to build bigger displays, allocate more shelf space, a proven tactic to growing sales, as well as cross-merchandise throughout the store.”

Apeel has seen the following with its retailer partners in the avocado category: 50% reduction in shrink, 5-10% growth in dollar sales and incremental 10% growth in dollar sales when sold in conjunction with in-store marketing campaigns.