When it comes to storing and transporting fresh produce, the saying “one bad apple can spoil everything” holds only too well. The ethylene emitted from one rogue piece of produce can make its way into the rest of the batch, creating widespread damage to a valuable crop. For this reason, the ethylene-removing technology Fresh Pod is being brought to the attention of the UK fresh produce supply chain. Produce Business UK finds out more from company director Valerie Watson-Brown, who claims Fresh Pod can “stop bad apples in their tracks”
Roots in California
Fresh Pod is currently better well-known for its “little green money savers” – the matchbox-sized “pods” that sit inside kitchen fridges to extend the life of fruits and vegetables by up to fourfold.
This is the case because Watson-Brown initially focused on the consumer market when she bought the license to distribute the Fresh Pod technology in the UK, Europe and other parts of the world some eight years ago from a company in California, the US.
But after undergoing a period of training, Fresh Pod company director Watson-Brown realised that the European fresh produce sector could also greatly benefit from this innovation.
“It was a no-brainer really,” she tells Produce Business UK. “If it [the technology] can save the average consumer £480 a year, then it’s going to save commercial growers tens of thousands of pounds.
“As it’s totally safe, natural and organic it can be used across the board for fruit, vegetable and flower crops. We have been building on that part of the business for the last few years and we went to California to train in how to deliver the technology to the commercial world.”
Winning over the supply chain
Given the pressing need to reduce food waste, Watson-Brown’s realisation could not have come at a better time. Just this month (January 2016), 30 leaders from businesses, governments, UN agencies and charities collaborated to form Champions 12.3. Its aim is to tackle the UN’s sustainable development goal (12.3) of halving per capita global food waste levels by 2030.
As the UK alone wastes an estimated 15 million tonnes of food and drink a year, the new group clearly has a challenge on its hands – as does the Fresh Pod team. So far, only “a tiny percentage” of commercial growers are using its technology.
“Education is the biggest thing,” says Watson; explaining that some growers still remain unaware that ethylene is the primary cause of premature ripening in fresh produce. Yet despite having so far chipped into a small proportion of the UK fresh produce market, Fresh Pod has nevertheless already won over many large producers. These include brassica growers Lankfer Produce in Wisbech and Naylors Farm near Spalding. Fresh Pod’s customers also include some of Kent’s largest fruit growers – all of whom use the firm’s larger machines in their storerooms.
The technology is being used in many other parts of the supply chain too. Watson-Brown says: “I would safely say we have someone everywhere along the food chain using the technology – importers, exporters, schools, and right through to the end consumer. It will definitely improve the storage life of products, and that gives people who import and export much more flexibility.”
In addition to its UK expansion, Fresh Pod is supplied overseas – as far as Israel – and is currently being used in shipping containers, aircraft, and in lorries that are entering the UK from across the Continent.
Simon Naylor of Naylors Farm with Watson-Brown
Added supplier security
As well as giving buyers, importers and exporters more flexibility, Watson-Brown explains that Fresh Pod also gives producers “a little bit of security”. For example, when an unexpected crop glut arrives from the Continent, UK growers often lose out to the cheaper imports – and consequently end up wasting their produce.
“We saw this about three years ago with blueberries from Poland,” Watson-Brown says. “So we just put them amongst Fresh Pod and they [the grower] could later sell on what they had got.”
Fresh Pod also complements big Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storage facilities. “One of the big [topfruit] growers who has CA further extends the shelf-life of his crops by using Fresh Pod,” explains Watson-Brown. “He gets nearly a year out of some of his stuff – once the crop comes out of CA, Fresh Pod goes in.”
How Fresh Pod works
While Fresh Pod can evidently benefit many echelons of the supply chain, Watson-Brown admits that the product operates best in an enclosed environment. For this reason, the technology doesn’t function well on a shop floor.
“It does not really work in such a big, open, environment,” she notes. “Suppliers to the supermarkets [therefore] just put our sachets in pallets and trays whilst they are in storage in the back room.”
Fresh Pod technology removes ethylene from the air by using the clever chemistry of patented Ethylene Control Power Pellets. “If you clean out the air, that bad apple is not going to cause a problem,” Watson-Brown explains.
These patented pellets react when they come into contact with ethylene. This reaction oxidizes the ethylene gas and converts the Power Pellets into manganese dioxide – a byproduct that is particularly handy as it can be used as a fertiliser.
In addition to removing ethylene, Fresh Pod also removes unwanted airborne spores, rots and moulds from the air. The product is approved by The Soil Association and certified by Global Organics and Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI).
“Fresh Pod is totally safe, natural, organic and it costs pennies,” points out Watson-Brown, excitedly. Given its many attributes, Fresh Pod could play an important role in the continued drive to reduce food waste.
Fresh Pod will be exhibiting at Fruit Logistica in Hall 8.2 stand A10.