A Californian startup that pioneered a high-tech solution to reducing food waste has secured personal investment from Oprah Winfrey and Katy Perry in its latest fundraising drive.
Perishable produce such as avocados, lemons and limes stay ripe for twice as long as usual due to an edible spray-on coating on their skin made from plant materials and devised by Apeel Sciences.
On Tuesday, the company announced it had raised further capital of $250m (£203m), led by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Government of Singapore Investment Corporation GIC to help finance its expansion and tackle the disruption to the global food supply chain caused by Covid-19.
This year, the company said it is due to save 20m pieces of fruit from going to waste at retail outlets, while also extending shelf-life in the home, where food waste rates are three times as high.
James Rogers, the Apeel Sciences founder and chief executive, said: “Food waste is an invisible tax imposed on everyone that participates in the food system. Eliminating global food waste can free up $2.6tn annually, allowing us to make the food ecosystem better for growers, distributors, retailers, consumers and our planet. We’re putting time back on the industry’s side to help deal with the food waste crisis and the challenges it poses to food businesses.”
The food technology startup was founded in 2012 with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help reduce food waste in developing countries without access to refrigeration. It works with exporters to treat fresh produce before it is transported around the world. Globally, almost a third of all the food produced, approximately 1.3bn tonnes, is wasted every year.
First used commercially in the US in 2018, the coating has helped to more than halve supermarkets’ fresh produce waste. It is also being used elsewhere, including in large supermarket chains in Germany and Denmark; the UK is due to follow this year. Asda carried out consumer trials last autumn on mandarins from Peru and tests on cucumbers, which could dispense with the need for plastic wrapping.
The company’s new investors, Winfrey and Perry, live in Santa Barbara, near its headquarters in Goleta. Winfrey is an avocado aficionado and has an orchard at her Californian home.
Apeel tested the technology on avocados because of their short period of perfect ripeness and relatively high price. It has opened satellite offices in Mexico, Peru, the Netherlands and New Jersey. It works with five suppliers of avocados, including two of the world’s largest, Del Monte and Del Rey.
Although helping US and European produce suppliers and retailers will remain a priority, Apeel’s new funding will help it support farmers and communities in sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America, which are at greater risk of food security issues.