Pepper, please – hold the plastic – Sponsored Content

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The idea for Sufresca was born out of a friendly bet between two scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Today, it’s a promising Israeli startup with a cheaper, easier way to cut billions of dollars in food waste and help wean the world off plastic packaging.

It is estimated that 1.3 billion tons of food around the world are thrown away every year, making food waste an economic and environmental scourge. About half of all fresh fruits and vegetables are lost or wasted, with most being damaged in transit or spoiled before purchase.

Amos Nussinovitch, a professor at Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, was studying edible coatings – that invisible layer of wax or other material applied to the product to extend its shelf life. and protect it during transport.

“I bet you can’t make peppers,” said a colleague. The high water content of the vegetable means that it quickly shrivels up and loses its nutrients. It was difficult to develop a coating that would adhere to its smooth, shiny surface.

It took several years of research, but Professor Nussinovitch finally won the bet by coming up with a formula that could protect the highly perishable pepper. Later he added formulations for other fruits and vegetables. The whole process took 15 years.

His discovery became the basis for Sufresca, a startup backed by Yissum, the Hebrew University’s technology transfer unit. The company has raised $4 million since its inception in 2020 and won EU and FDA approvals for its coatings. Its products are being tested in Mexico and the company plans to bring them to market in 2023.

Global market

“Everyone asks me why we are so professional for certain vegetables that no one else can do, and I tell them it’s because we didn’t start commercially, we started with pure research”, explains CEO Efrat Boker Ferri.

Sufresca estimates that the global edible coatings market could reach $8 billion by 2026.

If Nussinovitch had been more business-oriented, he probably would have started with something simpler than a bell pepper, but more commercial – an avocado, perhaps, with its bumpy, hard exterior, or a citrus fruit, with its enormous export market.
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But overcoming the toughest challenge ultimately made the company’s job easier.

Edible coatings retain moisture in produce to prevent it from shrivelling. They also prevent gases in the air that can speed up the ripening process. Sufresca coatings are tasteless and odorless, and can extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables by weeks, significantly reducing food waste.

Plastic packaging has long been used to help fruits and vegetables retain moisture, but with a devastating environmental impact. In Europe, “every cucumber is wrapped in plastic,” notes Boker Ferri. A British study has found that plastic packaging actually increases food waste, in part by forcing consumers to buy too much product.

In January, France banned plastic packaging for 30 fruits and vegetables. As the world’s population grows and crops struggle to keep pace, solutions like Sufresca’s will be even more needed to help reduce food waste, especially in developing countries.

The duration of the conversation

“This technology will be very useful for countries that do not have refrigeration, as it significantly extends the shelf life of fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Ilya Pittel, Vice President of Business Development at AgTech, FoodTech, Veterinary and Environmental Sciences at Yissum, which helps companies commercialize and license patents developed at Hebrew University.

“Some countries don’t have refrigerated trucking and all that logistics infrastructure, so this technology is fantastic,” says Pittel, who sits on the board of Sufresca.

Sufresca’s formulas cost around 1 or 2 cents to coat a kilogram of product, making them significantly cheaper than competing products. It is applied as a spray that can be easily integrated into existing packhouse supply chains without the need for additional equipment. This gives it an edge over rivals like Apeel, which require companies to purchase special equipment for their edible coatings, which can only be applied by their on-site team.

Sufresca’s products are EU and FDA approved. The company’s current portfolio includes peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, mangoes and avocados. Sufresca has developed additional technologies, including an edible film-like coating for bulbs like onions and garlic. Since each vegetable or fruit has a different water content and natural peel or peel, each requires a slightly different formula. Requests for other fruits and vegetables are ongoing, says Boker Ferri.

Although Israel’s domestic market has a much shorter food supply chain with little time between harvest and storage, the edible coating could be revolutionary for farmers looking to expand into export markets.

“If Israeli peppers exported to Europe can have a week or 10 days longer shelf life, that’s a huge difference in reaching the market,” says Boker Ferri.

Sufresca is raising an investment round through OurCrowd, the Jerusalem-based investment platform. For information, Click here.

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