Cutting-edge shelf life extension technologies employed throughout the supply chain, from field to facing to fork, are giving retailers better tools to slash shrink in fresh fruits and vegetables. Here’s a sampling:

• Plant-Based Fruit & Vegetable Coating. Water loss and oxidation are the primary causes of spoilage in produce. Apeel, which is manufactured and marketed by Apeel Sciences based in Santa Barbara, CA, is a plant-derived edible coating applied post-harvest that provides fresh fruits and vegetables with a little extra ‘peel’ on the outside.

“Apeel-treated produce is absolutely a win for the retailer and the consumer,” says Mike Roberts, director of produce operations at Harps Food Stores, an 81-store chain based in Springdale, AR. “We have seen our avocado shrink drop by 50% while also having a sales increase of 10% at the same time. The process allowed us to have an avocado at the perfect stage for a longer period of time for our customers, as well as allowing our managers to build larger displays and increase their allocation without expanding their shrink. We have added limes to our stores that are Apeel-treated as well, and we are looking forward to expanding the number of items in our departments that are Apeel-treated to decrease our shrink and to also keep more waste out of landfills.”

Last summer, Apeel announced supplier partnerships that enable a year-round supply of Apeel-coated avocados, limes, asparagus and organic apples. In the fall of 2019, the company announced its partnership with the Houweling’s Group, a greenhouse grower with locations in Camarillo, CA, Mona, UT and Delta, BC, to allow Apeel’s plant-based technology to replace the single-use plastic wraps on its English cucumbers.

“This not only reduces food waste, but plastic waste at the same time,” says Natalie Shuman, Apeel’s director of trade marketing. “Specifically, up to 86,000 pounds of single-use plastic annually, or the amount needed to wrap the Empire State Building seven times, and this is from just one supplier.”

• Shelf-Life Enhancing Vapor. Apricot, avocado, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, okra and plums can all benefit by Chicago-based Hazel Technologies’ 1-MCP technology, which conditions the storage atmosphere to reduce respiration rate and increase ethylene resistance via a shelf-life enhancing vapor from packing materials placed in boxes of bulk produce just after harvest. Last year, the USDA-supported company tested this technology on 1 billion pounds of fresh produce at major universities and prevented more than 270 million pounds of waste. This year, according to Patrick Flynn, company co-founder and chief marketing officer, Hazel Technologies will launch a new antifungal product that works on all four major berries. The 2019/2020-season is also the first the company is working on a large commercial scale with Southern Hemisphere grower/shippers on a variety of ethylene sensitive crops.

• Controlling Ethylene at the DC. New zeolites, or substances used as adsorbents, are now employed in the EC-3+ Clear Air systems used in retail distribution center cold rooms and manufactured by Ethylene Control Inc., in Selma, CA. “Our systems show significantly greater effectiveness than ozone generators at a greatly reduced cost,” says Dave Biswell, president and chief executive officer. Biswell adds that use of zeolites can double the shelf life of fresh produce and floral. “Sometimes that means days and, other times, weeks depending on the commodities. Most produce can benefit from using our products either from removing ethylene or killing the mold and rot spores. We are finding new commodities that we can help like recently dragon fruit.”

• Misting Systems. Used for seafood in the past, TriOBreeze, by Corrigan Corporation of America, in Gurnee, IL, also now uses its turnkey activated oxygen technology to sanitize the lines for produce misters at store level. “The precise amount of 03 is metered for the correct amount of time, typically just two minutes in the middle of the night or early morning house, to effectively sanitize the system,” says Emily Stavrou, vice president. “Reducing pathogens and bacteria in the case extends shelf life and lowers shrink.”

• Home-Use Modified Atmosphere Packaging. Pallet covers and liners with modified-atmosphere qualities aren’t new. In fact, PEAKfresh, a company based in Lake Forest, CA, has made these for years for use by grower/shippers. Newer are 6”x6”x16”-size home-use bags made with the same low-density polyethylene film impregnated with a naturally occurring mineral that lets the bags breathe so ethylene and other gasses are removed. When used in concert with refrigeration, the bags can double and triple the shelf life. The company sells retail packs of 10 bags. Floor stands and counter displays to merchandise the bags are available.

Success selling this home-use bag to retailers has been mixed, says Greg Ganzerla, president and owner. “The feedback I get from retailers is the product works great, but they’re afraid it will kill their sales. The thought being, if an avocado stays ripe for 30 days in one of these bags, customers won’t come back in store to buy more. After all, retailers get a bonus for what they sell, and they just account for shrink. I tell them customers will be so happy about the quality of the produce, because it lasts longer in our bags, so, they will buy more at a time without fear of it going to waste.”