November 22, 2021

Israeli startup has edible coating for fresh produce

Israeli-based ag tech startup company Sufresca Ltd. has optimized its novel invisible edible coating designed to extend the shelf life of fresh produce and expanded its use to fit a range of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Sufresca developed an edible, biodegradable, water-based emulsion composed of wholly natural food ingredients and inbuilt with advanced modified atmosphere properties. When applied to a fresh fruit or vegetable, the solution creates a breathable coating. Minute disruptions within the coating acts as a partial barrier that allows for optimal gas exchange. This slows down the postharvest maturation and ripening processes and subsequent degradation and decay. It also solves the problems that come with using impermeable sealants.

This sustainable solution can extend shelf life by up to several weeks, saving plastic packaging and extending shipment time. This drastically reduces loss of fresh produce en route, as well as in-shop waste.

“The chaotic structure of our coating was inspired by the cuticle structures that naturally layer plants to protect them from extreme environmental conditions and from water loss,” said Efrat Boker-Ferri, CEO of Sufresca.

Sufresca’s high-feasibility business model

Sufresca developed a high-feasibility business model for straightforward application of its solution into existing systems. This makes the coating solution an attractive, highly scalable and convenient option for producers, distributers, and exporters of fresh produce in the early stages of the supply chain but can also be applied at the later stages.

“Retailers and packaging houses are seeking cost-effective solutions to reduce waste and are kind to the planet,” said Boker-Ferri. “Our natural formula can be easily integrated into existing industry equipment, is adaptable to the various coating techniques and is completely safe to use. While we do offer a range of support services and guidance, our system is very straightforward to implement, eliminating the need for Sufresca personnel to be on-site, increasing its affordability.”

New hope to end food waste and plastic use

The current production of food is enough to feed the world population twice over. Yet, hunger remains a global epidemic. Food waste is a key contributor to this problem, as well as to the problem of green gas emissions. A colossal 40-60% of fruits and vegetables produced worldwide are lost or wasted even before reaching consumers due to spoilage. Sufresca’s postharvest solution is poised to change the game for fresh produce storage from ‘farm to ‘fridge,’ as well as for reducing plastic use.

A fresh concept for fresh produce

Founded in 2020, Sufresca’s green solution is the result of a 15-year R&D effort led by CSO Prof. Amos Nussinovitch, in his lab at the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The research team collaborated to develop a sustainable solution for fresh produce, notoriously challenging to coat. The team achieved its first proof-of-concept for highly perishable peppers known to be sensitive to weight loss. 

The team were determined to find an all-encompassing formula that could be adapted to a broader spectrum of fresh produce. This meant going against the grain of traditional research perceptions that would render such a feat almost impossible, largely due to the diverse botanical nature of vegetables and fruits.

“Each vegetable has its own unique traits,” said Nussinovitch. “In our search for the common denominator that connects the plant kingdom, these physiological distinctions had to be addressed.” 

The long lockdown period effectively closed the Sufresca team in their lab. While this put the brakes on the company’s marketing plans, it allowed them to boost their R&D efforts. Last year the company reached a breakthrough of optimizing their proprietary system to be applicable to different varieties of cucumber, mango, avocados and more, with just minute nuances in the composition.

The startup recently closed $3.5 million in seed investment led by OurCrowd VC, Israel, followed by the food and agriTech focused group FEAT Investments plus other investors. The round supports an initial $1.3 million previously raised from Agrinnovation and Rimonim.

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