New approach to avo ripeness

The uber-popular avo has given rise to some fabulous food technology – here’s the latest innovation….

If you walk into a grocery store and covertly watch people shopping for avocados, you’ll see the same thing happen repeatedly: People pick up an avocado, squeeze it, put it back, and then do it again with two or three others.

It’s not great for the avocados — when someone eventually takes them home, they’re more likely to be bruised and potentially wasted — and it’s still hard to tell whether a particular fruit is ready for eating.

A new “avocado scanner” for the produce aisle, from US company Apeel is designed to give a more accurate answer. Apeel has made past headlines for its creation of bioengineered films for fruit, fresh produce and flowers to dramatically and naturally extend shelf life, and which has been commercialised for avos.

Back to the new scanner… Place an avocado on the machine, and it shines a beam of light through the skin of the fruit, using a sensor to measure how that light reflects and then using machine learning — based on data from tens of thousands of avocados — to calculate when the avocado will be ready to eat.

On a display, the machine tells consumers if a particular fruit is ready to eat today or in three to four days.

Stores can also use a simpler version of the tech as they’re building displays, so signs could quickly point shoppers to produce at the right stage of ripeness. (The company’s research suggests that nearly half of shoppers would buy more avocados if they knew they’d stay ripe longer.)

In the supply chain, distributors can use it to help send the ripest avocados to the closest stores.

Apeel, a company with a mission to reduce food waste, first started working with the technology internally before developing the new scanners.

“In the process of developing our shelf-life extension technologies, we’ve had to develop our own tools that allow us to measure produce quality and predict longevity,” says founder and CEO James Rogers.

The coating that the company makes can give fruit and vegetables extra days before it has to be thrown out, but the scanner can help make it clear exactly how much time is left.

Already in use in supply chain

The technology is already being used in equipment to sort produce for distributors, and the company is now launching the smaller scanner.

While distributors sometimes used other methods to check ripeness in the past, they didn’t work particularly well — one common test involves poking fruit with a needle to see how hard it is, something that damages the fruit and can’t help predict how many days an avocado has left before it ends up in the compost bin.

As avocados keep getting more popular — including in places nowhere near where they’re grown, making it even more important to be able to calculate when they’ll be ripe — the tech can help cut waste. Lots of produce is similarly wasted in enormous volumes, and the company plans to develop versions of the technology for other fruits and vegetables.

“We think that this is the path to zero waste,” says Rogers.


Related reading:

Using food to preserve food and fight food waste

Back in 2014, we reported on Apeel Sciences, on the brink of commercialising bioengineered films for fruit, fresh produce and flowers to dramatically and naturally extend shelf life. Here’s an update on this remarkable technology…