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Decoding Nature: The Future of Quality Across the Supply Chain

Author: Apeel

As the world confronts a food supply chain severely impacted by the COVID crisis, we are focused on providing resiliency to the supply chain and quality in fresh food. Because, for us, it isn’t simply about extending shelf life, but extending quality.

Sure, everyone in the supply chain from growers to packers to distributors to retailers promise quality. Yet the benchmarks for delivering it remain fluid from one point in the supply chain to the next.

But with innovative methodology and robust research, we are creating a more tangible understanding of quality. In the same way that we saw the building blocks of a peel, we look to nature, using scientific observation and noninvasive approaches, to establish new ways of quantifying quality.

Doing so will help our mission to build a future food supply chain that is resilient, abundant, sustainable, and delicious.

In our video, our founder and CEO James Rogers discusses what we consider when talking about quality, our methods for determining quality across produce categories, and what’s still on the horizon to create measurements that are more comprehensive for all.

What Is Quality?

We know that quality degrades as produce travels from grower to grocery cart, contributing to $1T in lost food value every year (this represents the total financial cost of ALL food waste, not just produce).

But what is “quality” when talking about produce? Is it the reddest tomato regardless of its taste? Or the non-bruising apple that may not have that snap? Or is it quite simply the best-tasting, most nutritious piece of fruit you can find? Today, the definition is often subjective depending on where you sit.

Working across the supply chain — from growers to packers to retailers — it became clear that “quality” means different things to different stakeholders. The packers evaluate external qualities, such as size and grade, to reduce rejections and deliver uniformity. Meanwhile, the retailers are concerned about maintaining weight and color, and sometimes that particular shine.

But along the way, our scientific methods have also allowed us to begin to capture a unique understanding that reflects more precise dimensions of quality that can be applied regardless of the stage of the food system. As we see it, quality can be defined beyond the current cosmetic standards, using advanced measurement tools rather than intuition and a squeeze.

What’s on the Horizon?

As we look to the future, we are developing new techniques for understanding nature’s bounty that would allow us to determine internal and more intangible qualities. Imagine being able to differentiate produce on store shelves by unique flavors or even nutritional value.

In a world where so much produce is discarded because it doesn't deliver on basic quality attributes, we are wasting a precious resource — and losing valuable sales. To feed the future, and realize the full potential of the food we grow, we can work with what nature provides to understand quality traits. We can find new quality selling points that help sell the whole tree, be it “sweet but ugly” or “small but vitamin-packed.” This strategy would not only be more sustainable, but it also helps reprioritize the characteristics most important to shoppers, such as taste, shelf life, and nutrition.

For us, sustainability is also a key metric of quality. Although intangible, an understanding of the environmental impacts of taking a piece of produce from farm to fork is critical to creating a more resilient food system — and is of growing importance to consumers.

Together, we can build enduring quality that helps create a more abundant and sustainable food system.