Fruit infused with flavours like bubblegum or cinnamon could soon appear in UK supermarkets.
The technology comes from US company Agricoat NatureSeal, which is planning to bring its edible coating to Britain. Initially, the technology was designed to extend the shelf life of sliced apples, though it now works on over 30 different types of cut produce – adding days or weeks to items.
It works via a proprietary blend of vitamins and minerals sold as a powder, which is dissolved in water. The cut produce is dipped in the solution, extending shelf life between seven and 21 days. Companies of all sizes can use the powder as it works in small hand-dipping operations with a bucket or can be scaled up to large automatic flumes, according to the company.
Flavoured fruit could become a theme, Simon Matthews, general manager of the UK arm of Agricoat, tells Food Spark. “Imagine a caramel-flavoured apple at Halloween or a Pimm’s flavour in the summer,” he says.
Other tastes in the company’s range include raspberry, elderflower, vanilla, caramel, toffee and blackcurrant.
Organic applications and food waste
The processing of fruits and vegetables throws up many challenges, such as browning, loss of texture, loss of flavour and breakdown, explains Matthews.
“NatureSeal formulations are simple vitamin and mineral rinses which keep the colour and texture in an array of fresh produce, from prepared vegetables and root crops– including potatoes, parsnips, swedes, carrots – to sliced and diced fruits such as apples, pears, melons, pineapples and a host of tropical fruits,” he says.
Certain NatureSeal recipes are even permitted for use in organic produce and all are free from sulphites, GMOs and allergens, he adds.“Historically, products such as lemon juice or bakery apples and potatoes have used sulphur-based treatments, but these can affect taste, producing an acid tang. In the past, cut fruits might have been offered in sugary solutions to mask these tastes.”
The UK fresh cut market is mainly driven by the supermarkets and Agricoat maintains close relationships with both the retailers and the produce processors to develop formulations to meet their specific needs, Karen Murphy, director of marketing, adds. The tech can also be used for snack packs in retail or foodservice, according to the company.
“The goal is to increase the consumption of fresh produce through convenient, time-saving offerings,” Murphy says.“Cutting the produce also eliminates waste by having the ability to cut a bruised potion from a piece of whole produce that would otherwise go to waste and create a value-added product with the remaining quality parts of the produce.”
Five a day
But it’s not just food waste that the tech is trying to tackle, as the concept of the fruit is to add flavour, fun and freshness, comments Matthews.
“Already we have demonstrated that offering children particular snacking fruit in a bite-sized, convenient format drives increased consumption relative to whole fruit. Even though sliced apples are very popular, we have found that the introduction of novel flavours refreshes the product line,” he says.
“A good example is the sliced apple products offered in school lunch programmes; introducing different flavours provides a welcome change from ‘just an apple a day’. Another opportunity with flavours is to introduce the flavour of more difficult or short shelf life fruits such as natural berry extracts or banana flavours.”
PHE figures from 2017 show that just 18% of children aged 5 to 15 ate five standard portions of fruit and veg per day. Children’s fruit snack brand Fruit Bowl recently surveyed 1,000 parents and found that on average children aged 4 to 12 get 2.9 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and 11% of children in that age group never get their five a day.
Matthews won’t be drawn on who is using the tech, only saying that Agricoat “are working with some of the most innovative fruit processors at home in UK and in several parts of Europe.”
Agricoat also has other products likeFirst Step, a produce prewash, and Semperfresh, which is designed to reduce damage to whole fresh produce.