As much as almost half of the global fruit and vegetable production ends up as wastage. In the Western world, roughly half of this wastage is generated by grocery stores and consumers.
The issue involves more than environmental factors. The financial losses caused by fruit and vegetable wastage generated by households and the supply chain are around €200 billion annually, in Europe and the United States alone. For individual grocery store chains, vegetable spoilage results, at its worst, in losses of tens of millions of euros every year.
The traditional methods of prolonging the life of fruit and vegetables are packing them in sealed containers and regulating the temperature and gas composition of the storage environment.
“In the case of loose products, and vegetables stored in open packages, these methods are usually unsuitable. And consumers don’t have many other means apart from the refrigerator with which to prolong the shelf life of vegetables,” says Assistant Professor Kirsi Mikkonen from the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Helsinki.
The FreshPack commercialisation project launched at the University of Helsinki aims to reduce fruit and vegetable wastage through the use of a new type of nature-based and non-toxic component to be added into packaging. The project is based on an innovation developed at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Helsinki, for which a patent is pending.
“Our innovation slows down the ripening processes and microbiological decaying of fruit and vegetables. The FreshPack method works not only in closed packages and cold rooms but also at room temperature and in unsealed packages,” explains project planner Emmi Korjus.
The FreshPack innovation grew from combining three different research areas or ideas.
“My group was studying different bio-based packages. At that time, Professor Maija Tenkanen was on a research sabbatical in Canada, where she started to think about new packaging solutions. The third piece of the puzzle was Dr. Mari Lehtonen, who had already for some time studied vegetable oils,” says Kirsi Mikkonen.
The science behind the FreshPack concept is already well established with the help of the HiLIFE Proof of Concept grant. Now the team aims at commercialisation.
“We need to develop packaging solutions that work well in the supply chain. Therefore we need collaborators to help us fine-tune the invention for different purposes: from automated packaging lines, grocery stores and cold rooms to homes.”