Edeka and Rewe are testing edible plastic substitutes

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Plastic packaging has long been considered the best way to prevent fruit and vegetables from spoiling – but now supermarkets are testing a different way. Will the benefits convince consumers?

The grocery trade is in a bind. Plastic packaging for cucumbers, avocados and Co. are taboo for more and more customers. But without the protective plastic cover, fruits and vegetables often become unsightly and therefore unsalable. Germany’s largest grocer Edeka and Rewe That is why we are now testing new techniques to keep sensitive goods fresh for longer, even without plastic packaging. A wafer-thin, edible protective layer, which is applied directly to the skin of the fruit, is said to help.

The protective layer is intended to prevent rapid spoilage

At the end of last year, Germany’s largest food retailer Edeka started selling avocados in selected supermarkets and net branches that are provided with such a “second skin”. It is said to slow down water loss and oxygen penetration. Both are the main reasons for the rapid spoilage of the fruit. Thanks to the coating, the sensitive fruits should stay fresh for two to three times as long as without a protective coating.

According to the manufacturer, the protective jacket developed by the US group Apeel Sciences consists of purely vegetable materials that are found in the skin, seeds and pulp of various types of fruit and vegetables. It is tasteless and odorless and easily edible.

Edeka and Rewe are driving the project forward

Edeka merchant Falk Paschmann has been selling the treated avocados in his supermarket in Düsseldorf-Bilk for a few weeks now and raves: “This is a solution to an important problem of our time.” It offers advantages for everyone involved: for customers because the goods stay fresh even longer at home, and for him as a dealer because he has significantly fewer losses. That is probably why Edeka is pressing ahead with the project. Oranges and tangerines, which have been made more durable with the new technology, are now also available in the first markets, as the retail giant announced on Monday.

Competitor Rewe is following suit these days – with avocados treated with a similar system. The coating here consists of natural sugar, cellulose and vegetable oils and comes from the British manufacturer AgriCoat NatureSeal. It should also be edible and well tolerated. The company announced that the fruits would be sold in up to 860 Rewe and Penny stores this week. “We very much hope that our customers will support us in our fight against food waste with their purchase decision,” emphasized Rewe manager Eugenio Guidoccio.

Too much food is thrown away

According to a recent study by the Federal Research Institute for Rural Areas, Forests and Fisheries (Thünen Institute), over 12 million tons of food end up in the garbage every year. The majority of the waste – seven million tons – is generated in private households. The scientists estimate that every German citizen throws away an average of 85 kilograms of food a year.

And efforts to avoid plastic have only exacerbated the problem. According to information from the “Lebensmittel Zeitung”, the absence of plastic film for cucumbers has resulted in the fact that significantly more Spanish cucumbers had to be destroyed last autumn because they had not survived the long journey without being damaged. “Cucumbers for the bin,” headlined the journal.

The procedure is to be extended to other types of fruit and vegetables

So far, the new coating processes in Germany have only been used for fruits whose skin is not consumed. In the long run, however, the coating could also become common with other products. The US company Apeel, with which Edeka works, has developed recipes for 30 different types of fruit and vegetables, including strawberries, tomatoes, apples and peppers. According to Edeka, it is already preparing an application for approval with the European Commission.

Edeka retailer Paschmann can well imagine that the new technology will also be used in the future for fruits whose skin you are too aware of. “How often does it happen today that you buy strawberries, eat a few of them and then throw away half the next day because they are rotten? That would no longer be the case.”

Will the benefits convince consumers?

For the retailer, however, it is also clear that some persuasion will still be necessary. Under no circumstances should the new method be used secretly or imposed on the customer, he emphasizes. But Paschmann hopes that the benefits will ultimately convince the consumer. He believes that this could lead to “less food waste at all levels”.

Armin Valet from the Consumer advice center Hamburg basically welcomes the advance of supermarket chains. But this can only be an element in the fight against food waste. Here the trade has to turn a lot of screws. “There is still too much thrown away. Retail is in demand – with everything that can be done, not just with one method,” says the food expert.

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