Apeel's disruptive technology extending produce sales and shelf life
Avocado squeezers, lime sniffers and apple lovers searching displays for perfectly ripe fruit may not be long for the produce aisles. Consumers seeking produce at the peak of its freshness now have a simpler, more reliable option: go to a retailer selling Apeel produce.
Apeel-protected produce has a plant-derived coating that growers, suppliers and retailers can use to keep product fresh longer, extending shelf life, which reduces shrink at retail and affords consumers more time to enjoy healthy foods at home. In 2021, Apeel prevented 33 million pieces of fruit from waste at retail, which in turn conserved 1.5 billion liters of water (enough to fill 610 Olympic-sized swimming pools) and avoided 7,300 metric tons CO₂-eq of greenhouse gas emissions (the equivalent of planting 120,000 trees).
“Early on Apeel was focused on a cost-offset model because we have the opportunity to reduce waste in stores,” said Jim Smits, the company’s vice president of retail advisory. “But what we do is much more than that in terms of helping stores sell more and create category growth: waste is important, but growing sales and improving customer satisfaction are much more important.”
Smits said the company focuses on the consumer and the retailer, and reducing waste is endemic to the very nature of Apeel. The company’s retail advisory council is a group of diverse executives that have touched on produce in different ways. Led by Smits, the council is designed to align the Apeel’s solutions with the needs of retail grocery executives. Smits said they realized that “by focusing on customer satisfaction and helping retailers grow sales and margin, Apeel will help with shrink too.”
As the name suggests, California-based Apeel Sciences was started on a foundation of science. The decade-old company has been commercial for about two-and-a-half years, allowing about seven-and-a-half years to figure out and optimize the science and engineering for its line of products, which continues to expand and includes OMRI-listed formulations for organic produce.
Smits and the retail advisory council help bring the voice of the retailer and the voice of the consumer into the science and engineering.
One concern retailers share is the trend toward reduced shopping frequency. “Retailers were asking us to help them sell more fresh produce without the need of customers coming to the store more often,” said Smits. “They buy produce and by the third or fourth day they don’t have it in their home anymore. If they buy Apeel avocados on a Saturday, they can enjoy them all the way through the next weekend.”
These evergreen avocados are a key point of differentiation for Apeel when compared to products that can help with shelf life up to the point a consumer takes it home — as well as for retailers whose customers get a greater value from shopping trips with food ending up on the plate instead of the trash. “Apeel is unique in that its application directly to the product means the retailer is passing along the benefits directly to the consumer,” said Smits. “Shoppers are telling retailers ‘I’m throwing away less, and that makes me want to shop with you more.’ So it creates a point of differentiation for them and customer loyalty.”
John Abkes, the company’s senior director of retail services and no stranger to disruptive technologies helping shape the produce industry, said, “From a consumer-facing ideal, this is absolute magic — to be able to have a ripe product at home that you don’t have to throw out is magic.”
“In the 40 years I’ve been in this business I’ve seen disruptive technologies take hold,” said Smits. “It starts slow and then has a very steep acceleration and acceptance cycle. What I’m excited about is that some of the largest retailers in the country are now coming aboard and it’s beyond proof of concept.”
Abkes noted that the company has moved millions of pieces of fruit to tens of thousands of grocery stores across North America and Europe. “This is something we don’t have to prove anymore. If you have a longer-lasting quality product for the consumer, they will buy more, retailers will sell more with fewer discounts.”
And customer satisfaction isn’t just for in-store shoppers. Apeel is a gamechanger for those who prefer online and delivery as well. Because retailers can get avocados to a firm, ripe state that maintains ripeness for several days, it has become easy for retailers to fulfill consumer expectations that are sky high as they click on an image of a pristine piece of fruit.
“Consumer awareness is key,” said Abkes. “When an Apeel-treated product gets into the consumer’s hands they can enjoy it longer, and that’s the key to retailers as well. That appeals to health and wellness, it appeals to sustainability.” It also appeals to the retailer’s and consumer’s bottom line.
“First we have an Apeel-treated product shipping to consumers,” said Abkes. “Retailers will see sales going up and shrink going down. The next step is to look at ripening. We can make sure to have the exact specifications for their product for their prime sales time, which then increases sales more and further decreases shrink. The next step is to move to category performance. Do we want to work with loyalty cards, point-of-sale display; do we want to go into the store and do intercepts, ask questions and help the retailer in their specific market to reach out to their specific customers?”
By dialing into the exact specifications for the customer base, Apeel allows a retailer to set itself apart from the competition. It also opens the door to elevating that retailer’s private label and own brand. “We can help conversion rates, we can lower discounts, we can look at price points and help with own brand,” said Abkes. “There are so many ways we can help the retailer increase sales.”
And while there are myriad ways in which Apeel helps with sales, they all share a common origin: sustainability is the foundation upon which Apeel was built.
“Most people in the industry realize that — field to fork — there’s a lot of waste in the system,” said Smits. “We have the desire to help make the world a better place, and Apeel really does solve major food chain and food supply issues.”
Abkes, reflecting on his years in produce, said, “When you’re at the stage of your career that I’m in and you’re looking at the legacy that you’d like to leave, this is the legacy you’d like to leave — one where you can talk to consumers about how they can have more value and longer shelf life, and retailers can have higher value and less waste. Up and down the supply chain, Apeel brings the return on investment from grower through consumer. It also brings sustainability.”