Produce Business UK finds out how AgriCoat NatureSeal has opened up – then sliced, diced, and pureed – a whole new world of opportunity for fresh produce buyers to market an increasingly sophisticated and diverse range of fresh-cut options
Whether you’re hurriedly buying a pre-packed salad, popping a veg pot into the microwave, or choosing your favourite salad bar picks, most people now take it for granted that a varied selection of fresh-cut fruit and vegetables will feature in their on-the-go convenience meals and snacks. Few people, therefore, are likely to realise that their purchases might not be as colourful, tasty, or healthy without the help of innovative products such as NatureSeal.
How it started
Simon Matthews, general manager of AgriCoat NatureSeal in the UK, tells Produce Business UK that as little as 10 years ago buyers, the need to find a way of preventing browning in fresh-cut apples was so great that Agricoat began working with the US Department of Agriculture to develop the NatureSeal patented formula.
The firm – a subsidiary of United States (Connecticut)-based edible film coatings specialist Mantrose-Haeuser – successfully developed a vitamin- and mineral-based formula that can help improve the freshness, and extend the shelf-life of, fresh produce by up to two weeks.
Matthews admits that the invention of the first NatureSeal dip actually helped to revolutionise dessert apple snacking. He explains: “NatureSeal was the first product that enabled anyone to offer a longer shelf-life – longer than four or five days – without affecting the flavour or the texture. Before that people would have to add syrup or a sugar solution.”
“A big roll-out which made a substantial change [to the industry] was when, in May 2003, McDonalds used it for its apple snack bags,” continues Matthews, adding that another “mark in the sand” was made when, with the help of NatureSeal dips, bags of sliced apples were incorporated into school lunch programmes in the US.
New product development
Since NatureSeal was first developed, the company has gone from strength to strength –creating new formulations for a range of other fresh produce varieties, including root vegetables, such as carrots and parsnips, and exotic fruits such as star and sharon fruit.
“Since the pioneering days of the fresh-cut fruit sector and the roll-out of the first fruit bags, our NatureSeal products have been synonymous with the snack apple category,” Matthews says: “Today, NatureSeal products are involved in maintaining quality shelf-life and good eating quality in a much wider range of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables.” Matthews confirms that AgriCoat NatureSeal’s range is still expanding, with new products being launched or in the pipeline – and new markets under exploration. He notes: “In the past 12 months new NatureSeal products have been rolled out for avocados – to maintain their colour in dices, chunks and halves but also in the guacamole used in ready meals, sushi and sandwiches.
“As our reach, together with our client base, expands into new geographic areas such as in South East Asia, we have been engaged in developing new solutions for a much more diverse range of produce.”
He continues: “In more mature markets such as in UK, Europe and North America the past 23 months have seen an expansion of our business in the foodservice sector in particular. And our North American state-of-the-art research facility in Rhode Island continues to develop and screen new NatureSeal blends and recipes.”
As the need for greater convenience in the fresh-cut produce sector is “pretty much a given”, Matthews explains that consumers are starting to shift their focus onto what he describes as the “quality, nutritional value and healthy aspects of fresh produce”.
This, he reveals, means the company continues to think outside the box to find ways of accommodating these trends.
“Although my lips are sealed I can say that we are also developing some novel applications which we anticipate will bring added fun and flavour to fresh-cut [produce],” he explains.
Another trend that has gained some traction is the industry’s desire to eliminate the use of sulphites – a type of food preservative known to cause allergies. “Low sulphite products are available but NatureSeal has developed products for crops such as potatoes and parsnips which are free of any allergens,” he adds.
A desire to limit chlorine washing is further industry trend that has increased the uptake of the firm’s decontaminant wash, NatureSeal First Step. The organic sector, while it remains a niche part of the business, is also beginning to gain momentum. “Several of our NatureSeal formulations used in prepared carrots, potatoes, apples and pears are approved for use in organic production,” says Matthews.
Opportunities for buyers
Given that convenience eating and snacking is a trend that looks set to stick for a while, the edible film coatings sector is continuing to evolve and grow – meaning new product and market opportunities are continually being created for buyers.
“Convenient, healthy and fresh tasting fruit drives consumption – especially amongst the young and the busy, time-poor consumer,” points out Matthews. “Our NatureSeal products are continuing to offer these solutions today.”
Buyers interested in finding out more about AgriCoat NatureSeal’s range of products – and how they could help to expand fresh-cut produce offerings – visited visit the company’s booth at the London Produce Show and Conference, on June 3-5 at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane.