Apeel Sciences Wants To End Food Waste by Extending the Shelf Life of Your Produce

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Apeel Sciences Wants To End Food Waste by Extending the Shelf Life of Your Produce
Art by Ian Hurley

California is famous for its avocados, and avocados are a famously fickle fruit, ripe one moment and a ball of brown sludge the next.

Apeel Sciences is out to change that. The food science company has spent nearly a decade perfecting an edible coating that can be applied to fruits and vegetables to extend shelf-life by days, weeks or even months.

Slowing down the natural decay process offers benefits to consumers, certainly, but it also reduces food waste, and allows growers and vendors more flexibility in how they transport and sell produce.

Food waste is a massive global problem. By some estimates, a third or more of all food (valued at roughly $2.6 trillion) is thrown out — enough food to feed 3 billion people. Cutting food waste entirely could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 8%.

For Jenny Du, Vice President of Operations and co-founder of Central Coast-based Apeel, the company's vision represents a perfect mixture of environmental and humanitarian impact.

Du was born and raised in Canada and initially began her career working to develop film-forming technologies that could be used to protect fiber optic sensors to detect water pollution. For her post-doc work, she was drawn to the University of Southern California-Santa Barbara for its photovoltaic research programs. It was there that she met her friend and eventual co-founder James Rogers.

"James had been working on this idea in the background and had pitched it at a UCSB New Venture Competition," said Du, referring to the school's annual contest where students and faculty work together to launch new businesses. "As he talked about the need and the inspiration for the technology, personally it hit some important notes. For me it was about, 'How do I put my energies towards meaningful work?'"

For produce especially, getting products to consumers before it spoils relies on complex global supply chains. Some foods, like asparagus, are only ripe for a few days, meaning they have to be transported by air instead of on a cargo ship, drastically increasing their carbon footprint.

Apeel's technology works by reinforcing the existing outer layer of fruits and vegetables—the peel, in other words. Produce spoils as the plant's cells lose water and oxidize. The peel slows this process down, but not indefinitely.

"All plants were underwater at some point, but then they evolved to be surface level, terrestrial plants. In order for that to happen, they needed the formation of a peel," explained Du. "With that in mind you think about what that peel is made of."

Using the natural properties of the peel as a guide, scientists at the company have created edible, plant-based coating that dramatically extend shelf lives for eight different types of fruits and vegetables. And people are taking notice.

"This type of technology could be a 'game-changer' if these perishables have a longer shelf life," said Pedro Reyes, an associate professor of operations and supply chain management at Baylor University. Produce often requires refrigeration to extend its life. If that food could just sit on the shelf, it may ease the demands on energy, logistics and warehousing that could ripple throughout the supply.

Apeel produce is available in thousands of grocery stores in six different countries and the company claims its coating technology has saved more than 69 million pieces of produce from being wasted. Its success has attracted $360 million of investment to date, led by such heavy-hitters as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Viking Global Investors, Andreessen Horowitz and Upfront Ventures. In 2020, the 467-person company was valued at over $1 billion.

The company's strategy moving forward is relatively simple: Get more produce into more stores and expand into new types of fruits and vegetables. In the U.S., it has partnered with Kroger as part of their Zero Waste Zero Hunger initiative, which aims to reduce food waste and eliminate hunger in hundreds of communities across the country. But it enjoyed the greatest success in European markets, which Du attributes to the European Commission's climate-focused policies (a partnership with the Danish produce wholesaler Nature's Pride doesn't hurt either).

Apeel is hoping to move into emerging markets in Africa and Asia, as reflected by their recent partnership with the World Bank-owned International Finance Corporation, which specializes in creating economic growth in the developing world.

It's also looking to expand its reach into other parts of the supply chain. In May this year, Apeel acquired San Francisco-based ImpactVision, a company that specializes in hyperspectral imaging—a technique that allows users to see inside produce and can reveal the food's ripeness and details about nutritional content. It's all part of Apeel's drive to more precisely align supply with demand.

"We see a future in providing more digital solutions and being a more embedded partner to players in the supply chain," Du said. "So now that they have the edible coating and shelf-life extension technology, how do you make decisions? What do you do with that additional time?"

Lead art by Ian Hurley.

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How Token and Tixr Plan To Take on Ticketmaster in L.A.
Evan Xie

When Taylor Swift announced her ‘Eras’ tour back in November, all hell broke loose.

Hundreds of thousands of dedicated Swifties — many of whom were verified for the presale — were disappointed when Ticketmaster failed to secure them tickets, or even allow them to peruse ticketing options.

But the Taylor Swift fiasco is just one of the latest in a long line of complaints against the ticketing behemoth. Ticketmaster has dominated the event and concert space since its merger with Live Nation in 2010 with very few challengers — until now.

Adam Jones, founder and CEO of Token, a fan-first commerce platform for events, said he has the platform and the tech ready to take it on. With Token, Jones is creating a system where there are no queues. In other words, fans know immediately which events are sold out and where.

“We come in very fortunate to have a modern, scalable tech stack that's not going to have all these outages or things being down,” Jones said. “That's step one. The other thing is we’re being aggressively transparent about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. So with the Taylor Swift thing…you would know in real time if you actually have a chance of getting the tickets.”

Here’s how it works: Users register for Token’s app and then purchase tickets to either an in-person event, or an event in the metaverse through Animal Concerts. The purchased ticket automatically shows up in the form of a mintable NFT, which can then be used toward merchandise purchases, other ticketed events or, Adams’s hope for the future — external rewards like airline travel. The more active a user is on the site, the more valuable their NFT becomes.

Ticketmaster has dominated the music industry for so long because of its association with big name artists. To compete, Token is working on gaining access to their own slew of popular artists. They recently entered into a partnership with Animal Concerts, a live and non-live event experiences platform that houses artists like Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg and Robin Thicke.

“You'll see they do all the metaverse side of the house,” Jones said. “And we're going to be the [real-life] web3 sides of the house.”

In addition, Token prides itself on working with the artists selling on their platform to set up the best system for their fanbase, devoid of hefty prices and additional fees — something Ticketmaster users have often complained about. Jones believes where Ticketmaster fails, Token thrives. The app incentivizes users to share more data about their interests, venues and artists by operating on a kind of points system in the form of mintable NFTs.

“We can actually take the dataset and say there’s 100 million people in the globe that love Taylor Swift, so imagine she’s going on tour and we ask [the user], ‘Would you go to see her in Detroit?’ And imagine this place has 30,000 seats, but 100,000 people clicked ‘yes,’” he explained. “So you can actually inform the user before anything even happens, right? About what their options are and where to get it.”

Tixr, a Santa-Monica based ticketing app, was founded on the idea that modern ticketing platforms were “living in the legacy of the past.” They plan to attract users by offering them exclusive access to ticketed events that aren’t in Ticketmaster’s registry.

“It melts commerce that's beyond ticketing…to allow fans to experience and purchase things that don't necessarily have to do with tickets,” said Tixr CEO and Founder Robert Davari. “So merchandise, and experiences, and hospitality and stuff like that are all elegantly melded into this one, content driven interface.”

Tixr sells tickets to exclusive concerts like a Tyga performance at a night club in Arizona, general in-person festivals like ComplexCon, and partners with local vendors like The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach to sell tickets to the races. Plus, Davari said it’s equipped to handle high-demand, so customers aren’t spending hours waiting in digital queues.

Like Token, Tixr has also found success with a rewards program — in the form of fan marketing.

“There's nothing more powerful in the core of any event, brand, any live entertainment, [than] the community behind it,” Davari said. “So we build technology to empower those fans and to reward them for bringing their friends and spreading the word.”

Basically, if a user gets a friend to purchase tickets to an event, then the original user gets rewarded in the form of discounts or upgrades.

Coupled with their platforms’ ability to handle high-demand events, both Jones and Davari believe their platforms have what it takes to take on Ticketmaster. Expansion into the metaverse, they think, will also help even the playing field.

“So imagine you can't go to Taylor Swift,” Jones said. “What if you could purchase an exclusive to actually go to that exact same show over the metaverse? An artist’s whole world can expand past the stage itself.”

With the way ticketing for events works now, obviously not everyone always gets the exact price, venue or date they want. There are “winners and losers.” Jones’s hope is that by expanding beyond in-person events, there can be more winners.

“If there’s 100,000 people who want to go to one show and there's 37,000 seats, 70,000 are out,” he said. “You can't fight that. But what we can do is start to give them other opportunities to do things in a different way and actually still participate.”

Jones and Davari both teased that their platforms have some exciting developments in the works, but for now both Token and Tixr are set on making their own space within the industry.

“We simply want to advance this industry and make it more efficient and more pleasurable for fans to buy,” Davari said. “That's it.”