A new all-natural, undetectable protective film invented by a California start-up could be a major game changer in the all-too-brief life of supermarket fruit. The product, made by a Santa Barbara biotech company called Apeel, promises to provide “imperceptible, edible barriers” that extend the shelf life of produce by as much as five times. Chilean blueberries that endure a 30-day transit period can arrive in supermarkets like they were just picked, avocados can sit idle for 30 days longer without becoming revolting sacks of gray mush, and the company even promises the ability to do “day-of-the-week” banana bunches where each one ripens on a different day.
Today’s New York Times takes a deep look at the product, and it reports Apeel “could bring sweeping changes to the produce industry and grocery aisles” if the coating performs as advertised. The way it works is by surrounding produce in leftover plant materials that effectively trick fungus, bacteria, and insects into leaving it alone. It can be applied before or after fruit is harvested, and is specially formulated for the type (in other words, one version is specific to avocados, while another works for mangoes, a third for tomatoes, etc.).
The company tells the Times it’s currently negotiating with producers that together account for $6 billion of industry sales, and Andreessen Horowitz just helped it wrangle $33 million in venture capital. The coolest part of all, though, may be that its creators envision a grander use than ensuring white people have the freshest avocados possible for their toast: They think it will optimize food resources in a way that could help end world hunger, make a billion-dollar difference in the pockets of African cassava farmers, and drastically curb the truly embarrassing amount of food waste in America as well.