It was back in 2011, when I first called my mom to tell her about an idea to help feed more people by using food to preserve food. Her response? “That sounds really nice sweetie, but you don’t know anything about fruits and vegetables.” She was right.
So I went to the library, found the plant physiology section and checked out the course materials for my own version of Plants 101. I was hooked.
Turns out, monks first figured out in the Middle Ages that you could dip apples in beeswax and they would stay fresh longer into the winter. If you go to a grocery store today, the apples are still coated in beeswax. Unquestionably biased by the fact that I was working on my Ph.D. in materials science, the thought occurred to me, “We’ve learned a hell of a lot about materials science over the last 2,000 years. Maybe we could borrow that knowledge and build on the work of the monks, who, after all, figured out in the Middle Ages how to use materials in nature to make fruit last longer.”
I couldn’t shake the idea of working with nature’s own materials to reduce waste, but I didn’t know what to do next or how to make it “real”. I decided that the simplest thing I could do would be to come up with a name for a company that would make this idea its purpose. Staying home one Friday night, I read an article about a company that named other companies. I did the naming exercise outlined in the article, and one name stood out: Apeel.
That was progress!
Moving from the fundamentals of plant physiology, to the fundamentals of the food system: it turns out perishability determines every aspect of it. We have limited time to consume food before it “goes bad” - fruits and vegetables are living and breathing during a finite lifespan - so we’ve built up sophisticated supply chains to move fresh produce across the world from the far flung places where it’s grown to the markets where it’s consumed. It’s a race against time.
Yet despite the sophistication of the global supply chain and all that humans have invented since the dawn of agriculture, it’s still not enough to feed everyone. One in nine people goes hungry, even as upwards of one third of the food grown goes to waste. Brilliantly engineered tricks like refrigeration and single use plastic have gotten us to where we are today, but cannot take us any further. Meanwhile, the challenge is growing as we are going to add a couple of billion more people to the planet, which will require us to produce 56% more food by 2050.
The solution seems obvious: if we threw away less food, we could feed more people. But how to stop food from going bad?
We started Apeel with a simple question: what makes a lemon last so much longer than a strawberry? Simply put, it’s the peel. We imagined what we could learn from the peel of a lemon that we could teach to the strawberry, and then drilled down to develop our understanding on a microscopic level. Looking deeper into plants, their peels and skins revealed 400 million years worth of evolutionary trial and error. We gained new insights about how nature reorganizes the same molecular building blocks to create a protective barrier, the original trait that allowed plants to move out of water and onto land. We observed the common elements across the plant kingdom that constitute this protective layer, and with that knowledge, began to develop our own formulations for a ‘little extra peel’ made from nature’s own materials.
The result, a plant-based protective solution we developed at Apeel, meant that we could finally reach past the beeswax, the refrigerators and the plastic to give fresh produce more time -- a longer lifespan.
The concept was simple: creating more time for food could mean more time for all of us. It could revolutionize a food system stretched to the limits and further made vulnerable by global challenges such as climate change. At the same time, it could expand opportunities in the developing world, allowing smallholder farmers to leapfrog the need for refrigeration and plastic packaging, helping them access markets previously out of reach.
But it wasn’t enough to simply tell the world there might be a better way; we had to find partners to help lead the transition.
The Path Forward
In the years since then, we have helped our partners power up Apeel-enabled supply chains around the world, bringing plant-based protection to fresh produce - from avocados to apples - that helps it last two times longer.
Along the way, our retail partners have shown the world that reducing food waste is not only the right thing to do, it’s also great business. We partnered with the World Bank to build Apeel-powered produce supply chains in emerging markets, helped our partners eliminate single use plastic wrap on cucumbers, and we’re using Apeel to make sure sustainably grown produce can reach more people by servicing the Edeka and WWF partnership.
Just think, every participant in the Apeel-enabled food supply chain - every grower, every retailer, every consumer - is contributing to the establishment of a new food ecosystem, where there is more abundance and less waste. All of that work has been building to now, the moment when we take the next step together to achieve Food Gone Good.
It’s been nine years since I first scribbled “Apeel” on my living room window and made a call to my mom about a company that could help feed more people and look after the planet.
Today, if you choose an Apeel Avocado you help save 14L of water.
Today, if you choose an Apeel Lime you help avoid 6g of CO2 emissions.
Today, if you choose an Apeel Cucumber you help save 5 disposable straws worth of plastic.
Today, in choosing Apeel at your local grocer, your impact will reverberate throughout the food supply chain and across continents, enabling greater abundance while conserving resources.
That’s Food Gone Good.