A Ripe Idea

Posted online: June 2017

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Just off Milpas—where factories churn out everything from iron to beer—is an unassuming building that’s brimming with creatives and scientists. Inside, healthy avocados ripen on steel racks at a slothlike pace while technicians don goggles and work in a Breaking Bad-like lab with healthy initiatives to fight world hunger one fruit and vegetable at a time.

Apeel Sciences is the brainchild of James Rogers and backed by investors including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and innovators like chief commercial officer Jason Spievak, who cofounded local tech start-up successes such as Invoca. The concept is an all-natural, invisible, tasteless, odorless, micro-layer made of plant derivatives (everything from broccoli stems to vineyard grape scraps) that coats produce to slow down spoilage.

“It’s entirely composed of food,” says Spievak, “it’s literally just food.” FDA-approved to the highest designation as GRAS (“Generally Recognized as Safe”), Apeel’s pre-harvest and post-harvest products, Invisipeel and Edipeel, have optimized formulations for each specific food—from tomatoes to mangos. Bananas can be naturally treated so precisely that consumers could acquire a bunch of seven that would ripen individually each day of the week.
Aiming to revolutionize the industry by reducing the reliance on pesticides and chemical preservatives, their target is farmers big and small—from corporate giants to locals like Jay Ruskey of Good Land Organics in Goleta, who more than doubled the life of his prized caviar limes, widening his distribution and raising his profits.

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Apeel currently has 60 employees—more than half of which are UC Santa Barbara grads—but that number is soon to grow along with their facilities when its headquarters move to Goleta this spring, carrying on their in-office yoga and Friday guacamole challenges. However, this homegrown company has lofty goals, knowing that expanding the lifespan of fruit could help salvage the 50 percent of produce that’s lost to spoilage worldwide. While that number is more like 30 percent in the U.S. it climbs to 90 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. “Hunger is a global problem and we need a global solution,” says Spievak. “Apeel is the cheapest, easiest, safest way in the world to make more food.” Jennifer Blaise Kramer


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