The images posted in the last few weeks tell the story of the faulty food system of the united States. Image one: Farms with rows of products – lettuce, tomatoes, pumpkins – that are left rotting in the sun, without being able to find a market. Image two: Cars in row for a mile or more waiting for their turn to collect free food from a charitable organization.
Food waste in the U.S. is not a new phenomenon, but the outbreak of coronavirus and its consequences have made it difficult to ignore. About 35% to 40% of the food end up as garbage, and most of that occurs in the home. However, 37 million americans experienced food insecurity in 2018, and that number seems destined to soar with the increase in unemployment.
It was this dichotomy that inspired James Rogers, then a doctoral student in materials science at UC Santa Barbara, to start Apeel Sciences in 2010. “The problem is not production, is the amortization of the offer”, he says. “The food system in this time is really great for the people that can participate. But there are many people who are not participating”.
Applied on fruits and vegetables, the products of Apeel act as a sort of second skin, doubling or tripling the useful life, reducing the rates of deterioration in the supermarkets and, for buyers, eliminating some of the problems for the purchase of delicate foods such as avocados and peaches.
On Tuesday, the company, with headquarters in Santa Barbara announced the raising of $ 250 million in new venture capital. Directed by GIC, which manages investments for the government of Singapore, the new round of funding valued the company at just over 1000 million dollars and includes the participation of local residents, Oprah Winfrey and Katy Perry. Perry, who is also an investor in the company’s boot of alternative proteins Impossible Foods, refused to disclose the size of their engagement but called it “the investment tax most substantial I have ever made in a company.”
The sudden economic crisis caused by the closures of coronavirus has meant an environment of funding more cold for the companies of new creation, which has caused many to resort to layoffs. Apeel benefits of having them as customers to the supermarkets, which have been recording record-breaking sales while the u.s. was engaged to prepare most of your meals at home.
But that shift in consumption has brought new challenges. Grocery stores generally do not benefit from the agricultural products, considering them as articles hook to attract shoppers to a store. As the number of weekly trips to the supermarket per household has dropped from 2.3 to 1, shoppers began to fill their cars differently, buying bulk and by preferring foods that will keep for a while. “For a shopkeeper who based their purchases on what they bought in the same period of last year, it is a challenge to manage that inventory,” Rogers said.
In the meantime, the closure of coffee shops to corporate and school, and many hotels and restaurants have interrupted the path from the farm to the plate, causing the products are bunching up due to lack of distribution. “With half of the food system, closed almost from night to morning, what we have seen is a lot of waste, which rise to the level of the farm,” said Dana Gunders, executive director of ReFED, a non-profit organization that works to reduce the wastage of food. “One of the real bottlenecks that we’re seeing is in the cold storage. We are hearing from the food banks can’t make more products or perishable because their refrigerators are full”.
The solution of Apeel to all of this is to slow down the clock. Like other living beings, the fruits and vegetables breathe. It is this exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and the simultaneous loss of moisture, which causes them to ripen and rot. The refrigeration slows down the respiration, but accelerates the loss of moisture, increase the humidity to compensate for it promotes the growth of mold and mildew. “You’re always fighting a battle of time,” said Walter Robb, former co-director general of Whole Foods who has been on the board of directors of Apeel from 2018.
Looking for a way to slow down that process, Rogers, who earned his bachelor’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, thought of the way in which a thin layer of chemical that prevents the stainless steel from rusting. Thought that I could do something like this, until his friends from Santa Barbara pointed out that anyone who spent $ 6 on organic strawberries want to be treated with chemicals.
The solution he found was to make the layer of molecular components derived from shells disposed of in the same fruits and vegetables. “Philosophically, people don’t think about food as chemicals,” he said. A film microscopically fine is all that is needed to preserve a microclimate internal that allow fruits and vegetables remain alive without aging prematurely. The use of food as a single ingredient allows you to Apeel to market the treatment as organic, carrying a designation generally regarded as safe, or GRAS, by the Food and Drug Administration.
“Orange already has the perfect packaging. We don’t need to go to the lab to solve this problem,” Rogers said.
Rogers developed the idea with a grant of 100 thousand dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which sought the way that the small farmers of Africa could get their crops to market without the need for refrigeration. In 2016, sent two boxes of green-skinned avocados to the offices of Andreessen Horowitz, the influential venture capital firm in San Francisco, with a sign saying: “Watch me” (look at me).
During the following 14 days, the avocados, a box is softened and ennegrecieron, while that of the other box reached the peak of maturity and remained there. “It is one thing to hear about it. It is another thing seeing it with your own eyes,” said Vijay Pande, who oversees the fund of science of the life of the company. Andreessen Horowitz ended up leading the subsequent round of financing of Apeel $ 33 million.
In the united States, grocery stores, Kroger across the country sell avocados treated by Apeel and some are trying asparagus and limes. In Europe, the largest chain of supermarkets in Germany, Edeka, sells mangoes and oranges, Apeel. Because of that the shops also saves money in waste, can sell items of Apeel for the same price or cheaper than the equivalent untreated, Rogers said. “You can stock shelves with less risk of the food spoiling”.
For all of those images of farmers pouring milk and leaving the lettuce to rot in the ground, it is difficult to know for sure if the united States is wasting more food during the pandemic, ” said Gunders. “We are producing more or less the same amount of food, and the people, in theory, is eating the same amount of food,” he said.
But food waste is one of those areas in which return to the normal after the virus back it would not seem exactly a victory anyway. Project Drawdown, a non-profit organization that works to prevent climate change, has identified the reduction of food waste as a key factor to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, the prolongation of the useful life of fruits and vegetables could help to reduce poverty in the developing world, by connecting farmers with markets, and malnutrition in the united States, to eliminate the food deserts.
Perry, who was presented to Rogers by Chris Lyons at Andreessen Horowitz, said he has been looking for to get involved with startups that “are not taking but giving the planet and humanity. I’m really interested in magic to move the planet in the right direction, or in a better direction.”
Made the investment before the pandemic COVID-19 to change the habits of consumption, and now sees it as a bet a lot better. “We are all in this time really an observatory, in regards to our food,” he said. “See how long those fruits and vegetables. We all know the price of milk now.”