New edible spray gives Canadian cucumber producers the chance to ditch plastic wrap.
When it comes to plastic waste, cucumbers are one of the most complained about items in the produce aisle, says Dino DiLaudo, Vice President, Sales & Marketing at Topline Farms in Leamington, Ontario. To combat that waste, Topline is now spraying a plant-based coating called Apeel on 20 percent of the cucumbers that it ships. With a current capacity of 5,000 cucumbers an hour, Topline is using Apeel to replace the equivalent of 100,000 plastic straws each day.
Developed by California-based Apeel Sciences, the coating is a powder made from food-grade peels, seeds, and pulp from fruits and vegetables. After being diluted with water, Apeel can be applied by brushing or spraying, creating a tasteless and odorless clear edible coating that keeps vegetables from oxidizing and spoiling too quickly.
Topline is the first Canadian grower to use the plant-based coating. In the US and Europe, Apeel is used mainly because the coating retains moisture and freshness, giving produce a longer shelf-life. For Topline though, the value comes from reducing the waste generated by single-use plastic wrap. For more than 20 years, the greenhouse grower has been supplying fresh produce to grocery chains across Canada and in some American states, and since June it began shipping plastic-free cucumbers to select Canadian grocery chains.
Coincidentally, that same week the Canadian government announced plans to ban a variety of single-use plastics by the end of 2023. Although plastic wrap for cucumbers was not on the government’s targeted list, it has been on the radar at Topline Farms for years.
DiLaudo first met the owners of Apeel Sciences at a produce show in Chicago six or seven years ago.”This was brand new,” he says. “I was impressed with their goal to reduce food waste by extending the shelf life of produce. We started working with them a few years ago to see if Topline could use it to eliminate single-use plastic, and now we’re at the commercial trial stage.”
The initial three-month trial runs to September 2022 and Topline is in conversation with another Canadian grocery chain that is also looking to trial the plastic-free produce. If consumers are buying them, says DiLaudo, “then it will make sense for us to do 100 percent of our cucumbers and get rid of the plastic wrap altogether.” Topline will also look at expanding its spraying capacity to use with its mini-cumcumbers and, potentially, other plastic-wrapped produce.
Family owned and operated, Topline Farms has long been committed to environmentally friendly practices, from organic farming to the use of LED lighting and recycled packaging. Though DiLaudo says, “There is an expense to doing this, and it’s normal with any new innovation,” Topline is not increasing the price to its customers.