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Fruits and vegetables well past their expiration dates don't make for a particularly appetizing business opportunity.
But in a Series E funding round this week, Santa Barbara-based food-tech firm Apeel Sciences scored $250 million to put toward expanding the use of the firm's edible coating that can double the shelf-life of produce, helping prevent food waste.
Around 40% of food goes to waste in the U.S., despite the fact that 35 million Americans don't have enough to eat. Apeel believes engineering longer-lasting food can be more impactful than packaging up leftovers when it comes to preventing waste:
- Since launching in 2012, Apeel's been cooking up an odorless, tasteless spray that keeps moisture in (and oxygen out) of foods like citrus, avocados, apples, and cucumbers. The plant-based spray essentially functions like a second peel that keeps food ripe for longer.
- Earlier this year, Apeel acquired a software company called ImpactVision, which uses AI to track the decomposition of individual pieces of produce, helping to optimize the routing of fruits and veggies through the supply chain.
In 2019, Apeel says they saved 42 million pieces of fruit from going to waste. "One in nine people is going hungry...three in nine pieces of produce are being thrown away," CEO John Rogers told TechCrunch. "This is a solvable problem, we just have to get the pieces to the right place at the right time."
This week marked Apeel's second quarter-billion-dollar round this year, bringing the firm's valuation up to $2 billion. Investors have been especially keen on Apeel's shelf-life extending spray since the pandemic, which roiled the food supply chain, forcing grocery stores and suppliers to pivot inventory management rapidly. Unpredictable pressures are easier to navigate if your food inventory has a longer grace period.
Today Costco, Tomorrow the World: Apeel is already in eight countries, 30 supply networks, and "tens of thousands of stores," including Costco, Kroger, and Walmart. The new funding will help the firm grow that list.
Save The Apples: Capital has poured into food waste start-ups over the past year. Phood and Shelf Engine provide food supply chain optimization software, while Too Good To Go, Misfits Market, and Imperfect Foods actually allow people to buy leftovers from restaurants and grocery stores.