High quality produce that lasts a while and is safe to eat. These are two priorities for today’s consumers. For more than 25 years, AgriCoat NatureSeal has been working on just that in collaboration with universities, the USDA, as well as different companies. The company’s capabilities cover three different sectors. “First of all, we offer a range of environmentally friendly produce washes, used to clean and decontaminate fruits and vegetables,” says Simon Matthews with AgriCoat NatureSeal in the United Kingdom. “Our product gives operators the chance to eliminate chlorine washes and even reduce water consumption,” he added. These solutions are also acceptable for organic produce.
In addition, the company offers plant-based edible coatings that are applied postharvest to delay ripening and reduce spoilage in whole fruits. Applied in a similar way to traditional fruit waxes, the coatings create odorless, tasteless invisible coatings that slow respiration and delay ripening, “Our coatings are made from ingredients that are fully edible and biodegradable.”
Finally, the NatureSeal side of the family offers vitamin-mineral blends that are used to maintain quality and shelf-life in minimally processed and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. These blends are applied after cutting and peeling the produce. “They extend shelf life for up to two weeks by preventing browning, loss of texture, purge, and taste for more than a dozen different types of cut produce.” NatureSeal products are sulphite and allergen free and are suitable for vegans. In addition, they are Kosher and Halal certified and many are approved for use in organic production.
AgriCoat’s lab team screening new, plant based coatings for tree fruit at the UK’s research labs.
COVID recued demand for fresh-cut produce
What have the effects of COVID been on shelf-life extension technologies? “The greatest impact was felt in our NatureSeal business, the fresh-cut segment,” admitted Matthews. “Most obviously, during lockdown, the closure of restaurants, pubs, and entertainment venues impacted severely on many of our processors, especially those engaged in food service. Companies catering for airlines and train operators also suffered tremendously and many scaled back their operations or even closed temporarily. Some of our clients moved from packing cut fruit to prepping pizzas.” With reduced footfall in the Highstreet and more people working from home, demand for on-the-go snacks and lunch packs reduced. “Our most successful customers adapted with some switching to making home delivery products and offering home cooking packs. As a result, demand went up for NatureSeal vitamins used in prepared vegetables for meal kits people eat at home.”
In addition to foodservice being closed for a long time, the pandemic caused people to return to basics. Demand for NatureSeal products that extend shelf-life held up well for sliced apples, prepared carrots, and other veggies. However, for some of the exotic items like tropical fruits, banana slices and avocado snacks, demand went down. “I am glad to say we are seeing a recovery now and demand for the ever-popular prepared avocado, whether as inclusion in a salad bowl, sandwich filling or sushi snack is once again growing strongly,” said Matthews. Products offered to maintain quality and color in fresh and frozen products such as pulped avocado or guacamole are also enjoying strong demand.
Trends in coatings and shelf-life extension
In an effort to reduce or eliminate packaging inputs such as plastics, AgriCoat NatureSeal has been witnessing an increased interest in companies willing to explore the benefits of coatings on a wider range of fruits, including more exotic and tropical fruits. “Citrus fruits and tree fruits such as apples have been routinely waxed for many decades to improve storage life and protect against shrink and post-harvest losses. However, the use on exotic and tropical fruit is more recent,” said Matthews.
While there is a trend towards the reduction of plastic, the pandemic has brought to the fore the benefits packaging offers in terms of keeping produce clean and safe. “Packaging clearly has an important role, and it is too simplistic to say edible coatings can eliminate these technologies,” commented Matthews. “There is no magic bullet, but we are finding our coatings deliver some interesting benefits in the process of eliminating excessive packaging.”
When it comes to shelf-life extension for fresh-cut produce, the return of foodservice has resulted in an increase in demand for more specialty NatureSeal solutions. “In recent years, solutions for avocado have been growing strongly and this is once again the case as many of our fresh-cut processors are re-introducing eye catching and specialty ingredients such as banana slices and stone fruit.”
Simon Matthews (left) from the UK team with Gretchen Lane and Tim Grady from the company's US team.
As part of a multinational group, AgriCoat NatureSeal has global reach and works with fruit packers and exporters across the world. With offices and R&D facilities in the USA, UK, and Hong Kong, the company is able to work with many of the world’s leading chilled food and food service manufacturers as well as distributors across Europe, North & South America, and Australasia . Another benefit of having presence around the globe is understanding the needs of the different markets. “In some markets, only a 3–4 day shelf-life is viable for a product like prepared banana or strawberry while other markets may require 7-10 days or even more. With our global presence we are able to achieve a fusion of ideas and share experience and expertise across different regions.”