Jul 15, 2020
AgroFresh helps keep produce supply chain moving

Although COVID-19 does not currently pose major threats to overall global food security, it continues to cause disruptions in the fresh produce supply chain. Growers and packers are adjusting their operations and processes to become nimbler and adaptable.

One solution helping growers and packers remain flexible and reliable are AgroFresh products, including SmartFresh InBox, used by growers without an airtight room or those who require a smaller, more accessible option. For produce delayed at various points in the supply chain, SmartFresh InBox is more easily applied than traditional freshness-extending methods, the company said.

As the fresh produce supply chain adapts and adjusts, many growers need to be able to prolong freshness without utilizing a massive storage room. SmartFresh InBox is just one of the products AgroFresh offers.

AgroFresh’s Ann Beaulieu, vice president R&D and regulatory, and Fernando Edagi, commercial technical manager, recently spoke to Fruit Growers News regarding AgroFresh’s efforts during the global pandemic, as well as reviewing the benefits of the company’s “farm to fork” products.

“We saw with the pandemic that sales increased dramatically during the first few weeks of the lockdown,” Edagi said. “People wanted to buy a lot of produce, stock it in the house and that made the market shift really fast.

“Because there was such a large demand in a very short period of time, like tomato packers in Mexico who were shipping so much, there were so many tomatoes in the supply chain,” Edaji said.

“The demand started going down because people started freaking out, there were so many tomatoes in the supply chain, retailers started saying ‘don’t send me anymore tomatoes.’ Growers in Mexico reached out to us, and where you were seeing pallets of tomatoes being dumped, we helped them with a solution for such a critical time. Those guys really appreciated us in times like this.”

Edagi said AgroFresh has been “very proactive talking to customers. Unfortunately, we can’t visit them. The good news is all of our customers were open to teleconferences, so we were still seeing each other.”

A technological leader

AgroFresh pioneered the use of 1-MCP technology for fresh produce nearly 20 years ago. 1-Methylcyclopropene is a cyclopropene derivative used as a synthetic plant growth regulator. It is structurally related to the natural plant hormone ethylene and it is used commercially to slow down the ripening of fruit and to help maintain the freshness of cut flowers.

Beaulieu and Edagi, who have been with AgroFresh for more than 10 years, said their perspective is rooted in decades of experience, research and close collaboration with growers and packers.

“AgroFresh was formed after 10 years of significant research going on in 1-MCP,” Beaulieu said.

“It has built on that foundation with significant investment and research in 1-MCP technology. The global footprint and work that AgroFresh has brought to this area is one that some say has revolutionized the industry.”

The company has an R&D presence on the West Coast and in the Pacific Rim, extending to Chile. It has research labs in Yakima, Washington; Fresno, California, two in Spain and one in Bologna, Italy. also has a facility in Melbourne, Australia. All of the outlets serve as testing facilities on fruit, providing R&D and technical support for its customers.

AgroFresh’s materials science laboratory near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is where the physical products are developed and then proceed to be evaluated in the appropriate lab for the crop.

“AgroFresh has developed the science and the knowledge into determining how to best use 1-MCP across a very wide variety of crops, ultimately to bring the consumer the best eating experience that we can deliver in partnership with our customer,” Beaulieu said.

Edagi said 1-MCP is not a “one-sizefits-all solution. There is no such thing as a silver bullet. We cannot easily develop a solution for apples being grown in New Zealand and say this is going to work for avocados in California.

Related: California pear growers nix 1-MCP; AgroFresh responds

The company works “close to our customers to make sure that the solution that we are delivering to them is exactly what they need and it fits their supply chain,” he said. “We look at what are their goals. What is the temperature where you store it? Geography is very important.

Our solutions for pears in Argentina are different for our solutions for pears in Washington state or in Italy or Chile. We work real close with our customers to make sure that we’re delivering exactly the benefits that they’re looking for to meet the target markets that they want.”

AgroFresh customers “are actually growing, packing, storing and distributing the fruit into retailers,” Edagi said. “We know farmers and packers need 1-MCP to deliver fresh produce to the consumer.

“We are kind of spoiled,” Edagi said. “We’re used to having apples year-round. We want to be able to eat apples in September or if it’s in April. To do so we need to help the packers to be able to store those apples year-round. Or, enable a New Zealander grower to ship high-quality apples to the United States or Europe.”

Edagi said helping customers achieve product placement in these other markets – or to achieve success in a particular period of the year – was not possible in the past.

“This is our real aim here, to be able to enable our customers to deliver a great piece of fruit that will give customers a great experience to come back to buy even more. That’s our end goal.”

Growing conditions, and thus use of AgroFresh products, vary with location, Edagi said.

“Like with pears, there’s so many varieties. If we only only focus on the Pacific Northwest, that’s a very limited geography that doesn’t include California or Argentina. Even in the Pacific Northwest, you could have different needs for different locations.

Factors that require specific approaches are readily addressed, Edagi said.

“We have recommendations that consider are you combining Smart Fresh with other technologies, such as controlled atmosphere or other postharvest treatments? Those are things we work really close with our customer to make sure the recommendations that we have are ultimately going to deliver the success that they need.”

“As a team at AgroFresh, we work really tight together and with those who are in other regions,” Edagi said. “Ultimately, we tailor-make our recommendations to our customers locally. (This includes) all the details that are pertinent in the supply chain, including temperature, maturity of the fruit and the variety.

“The other factor on top of all this is the season,” Edagi said. “We can’t just say for the 2020 season, whatever you did in 2019, just repeat it. We know that, because of weather, the size of their fruit, fruit and crop set. There are so many factors, it’s almost like an art for growers to be able to deliver high-quality fruit. We just want to be able to provide them with the tools that they need to deliver a delicious piece of fruit.

“Everybody knows AgroFresh for the apples, but we have so many other crops, and all of them are different,” Edagi said. “There are different recommendations for different crops.

“With melons, for example, growers in California had to sell all of their melons there or maybe they can go to Denver,” he said. “Now, can they possibly sell them all the way to New York and maybe get a better price. Yes, you can, because of our technology. That’s what really motivates us – to really help customers to get to markets that before they thought was not a possibility.”

— Gary Pullano, managing editor

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