If you are an avocado eater, you are likely all too familiar with the crushingly accurate joke making the rounds on the internet about the beloved fruit’s short window of ripeness: Not yet, not yet, not yet, EAT ME NOW, too late.
That the avocado’s frustratingly short shelf life had reached meme status was not lost on James Rogers.
Rogers, the CEO and founder of Apeel Sciences, has been working on a technology to extend the shelf life of produce since 2012. The avocado, he says, is a natural fit for his company’s technology and is Apeel’s first target in the U.S. “We hope we can repair the avocados reputation,” he quips.
Apeel can double the amount time that an avocado is ripe with the application of its product, which Rogers describes as a “peel to naturally reinforce the peel that’s already there.” The imperceptible layer, which is applied to exterior of the produce, is made of plant material. It slows down the rate that water is lost and keeps oxygen from getting in—the two the factors that lead to spoilage.
“We’re not making fruits and vegetables any better than they start out,” he says. “We’re just slowing down the rate of deterioration.”
Now Apeel’s avocados are hitting store shelves at Costco locations in the Midwest and at Midwestern chain Harps Food Stores. While Apeel avocados require an extra step—and additional costs—to produce, Rogers says they will be priced the same as their conventional counterparts in the store because they provide retailers with the potential to reduce the amount of product they lose to spoilage; food waste by some estimates costs retailers $18 billion a year.
The startup has installed its application system with its partner-growers—in this case Del Rey Avocado Company for Costco and Eco Farms for Harps—who receive the product in powder form. It’s mixed with water and then either dipped or sprayed onto the fruit. A strawberry would have a different formulation than an avocado because the goal is to create an “optimal microclimate” inside each produce type, Rogers says. He said that the company has plans to soon go into citrus and then asparagus.
“They reflect a growing trend in the ability to use techniques from engineering and biology to really make the world a better place,” says Vijay Pande, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, adding that over the next few years Apeel “will transform how Americans eat and transform the supply chain.”
Andreessen led Apeel’s most recent round of funding, a $33 million Series B. The startup has raised $40 million in total and was started in 2012 with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“We don’t need to go into the lab and make new chemistry or molecules to solve problems,” Rogers says. “Nature has figured out how to solve these problems over billions of years.”