With more fresh produce becoming available in pre-prepared, ready-to-eat, forms, NatureSeal has seen the demand for its proprietary technology gain strength. The company has developed a formulation that prevents cut and other prepared produce from browning and other time-enhanced degradations. NatureSeal developed the non-browning solution after the USDA tried to develop one before tapping the company to help out.
"The first NatureSeal formulation was co-developed and patented by Mantrose-Haeuser Co., Inc., the parent company of NatureSeal, Inc. and the USDA ARS," explained Karen Murphy of NatureSeal. "The USDA had worked for several years to develop a sulfite-free alternative to keep fresh-cut apples from browning. The criteria was to develop a healthy product which would maintain the color and texture of cut apples without altering the flavor as well as extend the shelf life. After years without success the USDA approached Mantrose and formed a CRADA to continue the project. It took another three years before the final product was ready for market. The NatureSeal R&D Team went on to develop an extensive line of NatureSeal formulations to achieve the same results on a wide variety of fresh-cut produce."
What is in it, and how is it used?
Murphy shared that the NatureSeal line of products are proprietary blends of vitamins, minerals and fruit acids, sold in a powdered form. The powder is diluted in water according to the optimal concentration for the specific produce item being treated. The NatureSeal solution essentially forms a barrier on cut produce when it is dipped in the solution, inhibiting the natural oxidation process which causes the product to go brown. The company also notes that the minerals in the solution help to maintain the cell structure thereby keeping the natural texture. It also has some other benefits.
"There are several unique benefits to the NatureSeal product line," Murphy said. "In addition to minimizing oxidative browning in cut produce, they help maintain the texture of the produce after cutting. The products are tasteless, thereby having no impact on the natural flavor of the cut produce. NatureSeal allows for enough shelf life extension to get the cut produce from processor through distribution to the end user without the inclusion of sulfites."
While the NatureSeal products were designed for use on fresh-cut produce, the company's UK subsidiary, AgriCoat NatureSeal Ltd. markets another product, called Semperfresh, which also extends shelf life and can be used on whole produce, according to Murphy. "The Semperfresh line of products are pre- and post-harvest coatings based on sucrose esters which delay ripening, maintain colour and firmness, in produce such as pears and cherries while minimizing physiological damage such as chilling injury in a variety of tropical and subtropical fruits. Post harvest, Semperfresh is applied typically by drenching, spraying or misting over rollers."
Opportunities in tandem with growth of convenience products
One of the biggest driving forces in the growth in demand for products that maintain the look and texture of fresh produce, is the trend in convenience products. Consumers are increasingly seeking out fresh produce that has less preparation requirements and can ideally be eaten on-the-go. Many of these involve cut or sliced fruits as well as other foods. "We are currently seeing the avocado/guacamole market expanding in the prepared produce arena," Murphy noted. "Sliced bananas are also seeing significant growth."
Murphy added that much of this growth is from younger generations, and those in developing regions. "Generation Z is the up and coming group of consumers dictating the future of food trends," she said. "According to Technomic’s 2018 Generational Consumer Trend Report, approximately 40 percent of Generation Z eat their food on the go, more than any other generation. On a regional basis we are seeing substantial growth in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The prepared foods segment continues to grow at leaps and bounds and there are no signs of this slowing down."
Organic use and future developments
Currently, NatureSeal is available in 44 different countries, with the company stating that the respective products comply with the food safety requirements of each of these countries. Those thinking about using this on organic produce will likely be pleased to know that the product can be used on organic produce. "There are several different formulations in the NatureSeal product line which are approved for use on organic produce," Murphy said. "These include products apples, pears, stone fruit and root vegetables to name a few."
And this growth is showing no sign of letting up. Murphy concluded by sharing that the company are now in the process of developing formulae for more products, as well as increase the options for different categories. "While the NatureSeal product line enhances the shelf life of over thirty different produce items, there are still a few we continue to work on to optimize the effectiveness," she said. "The development of the NatureSeal line of products was the catalyst to the development and growth of fresh-cut produce industry as we know it today. Initially developed for the processing industry, we are now seeing substantial growth in the foodservice and consumer market."