A Bill Gates-backed edible coating makes avocados last twice as long — and it's coming to Costco

  • A food-tech startup called Apeel Sciences debuted its avocados at every Costco and Harps Food Stores location in the US.

  • Apeel has created an invisible, edible coating that food suppliers can spray on produce to extend shelf life. The company claims that its avocados last twice as long as non-organic avocados.

  • The coating slows the decaying process.

Avocados are known for their short shelf life. By the time the beloved fruit hits a grocery store shelf, it will last about a week before it gets too ripe.

A Santa Barbara, California-based startup called Apeel Sciences has invented an edible coating that it claims will double an avocado's shelf life. Food suppliers spray the product (called Edipeel) on the produce before it ships to grocers.

So far, the startup has developed Edipeel products for more than three dozen crops, including asparagus, peaches, lemons, pears, and nectarines.

On Tuesday, Apeel debuted its longer-lasting avocados at every Costco and Harps Food Stores location in the US. This is the first time the startup has sold its produce. (Harps Food Stores, a regional grocery chain, has 87 locations across the Midwest. Costco is much larger, with more than 500 wholseale locations across 44 states and Puerto Rico.)

Made of leftover plant skins and stems, the coating acts as a barrier that slows the decay process. After the coating dries, it locks in moisture and acts as a shield against natural gases (e.g. oxygen and ethylene) that make avocados ripen.

Slicing open an Apeel avocado will break the shield, and at that point it will brown just as fast as a normal avocado.

"Refrigeration has been used to increase produce quality during transportation and storage, but you lose the benefit of refrigeration when a fruit sits on a grocery store shelf or on a kitchen counter," CEO James Rogers told Business Insider. "With our technology, we're able to dramatically reduce the rate that clock is ticking."

Apeel has attracted at least $40 million in venture-capital funding from several high-profile investors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved Apeel's first products as "generally recognized as safe," meaning they're okay to eat and sell. In 2017, the company received approval to use Edipeel on organic produce, though the avocados at Costco and Harps will not be. They'll also cost the same as any other conventionally-grown avocados.

Last year, Apeel moved into a 105,000-square-foot facility, and at least six farms in Southern California, Kenya, and Nigeria are now using Apeel's products. In the past several months, the company finalized negotiations to work with over two dozen packing houses and several farms in Mexico, Peru, and Chile to prepare for its commercial rollout.

Since early 2017, farms and food packing houses have been able to buy Apeel's products. Edipeel is usually sprayed on produce during the wash cycle, before it's sorted and packed to go to retailers.

The coating is made of discarded materials from organic produce — anything from pear stems to leftover grape skins to grass clippings. But the formula differs for each fruit or vegetable.

The company is also working on a second product called Invisipeel that's designed to keep insects away. Invisipeel is not yet widely available.

Below is a timelapse comparison the company created to show the Edipeel effect on ripe strawberries. (The bottom row was treated with Edipeel.)


Apeel Sciences

The coating could help stores and farmers reduce waste from produce that has ripened too quickly. Since Apeel's plant-based product control the rate of decay, the company offers Costco and Harps a less costly way to preserve produce (the idea being that grocers will discard fewer spoiled avocados and thus save money). This is one major reason why the locations will offer Apeel's fruit at the same price as other non-organic avocados with a shorter shelf life, Rogers said.

If Apeel starts selling more types of produce at Costco, it could also give the chain an advantage over its competitors, including BJ's Wholesale Club and Whole Foods. Costco is known for its low-cost produce, but as Whole Foods lowers its prices following Amazon's acquisition, the wholesaler may be looking for ways to differentiate its fresh food offerings.

Rogers plans to expand the types of produce Apeel sells in the future, and grow geographically, too. Asparagus could be next.

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