(p. C6) Growing up in Battle Ground, Wash., James Rogers wanted to be an inventor.
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Some 25 years since those afternoons with his “invention journal,” Mr. Rogers, 35, is now promoting a scientific discovery that could improve the global food-supply chain. His company, Apeel, applies an edible, plant-based coating to fruits and vegetables that extends their shelf life without refrigeration.
Apeel-treated avocados, limes, apples and cucumbers are already in some of the largest grocery chains in the U.S. and Europe. The startup now plans to expand into markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America, thanks to a $30 million investment from the International Finance Corp., the World Bank’s private-sector arm. The company Mr. Rogers launched in 2012 as a Ph.D. student is now valued at more than $1 billion.
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Mr. Rogers has had to prove that more time not only reduced waste but also boosted sales. According to the Edeka Group, which runs more than 11,000 grocery stores in Germany, a pilot launch of Apeel avocados in nearly 3,000 stores in 2020 resulted in 50% less waste and a 20% rise in sales. Edeka swiftly agreed to carry Apeel avocados, oranges and clementines across all of its stores.
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Mr. Rogers had been a student all his life when he launched Apeel at age 27. Did his youth and inexperience create problems? “It may have helped,” he says. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I wasn’t overwhelmed.”
He has discovered, for example, that every fruit and vegetable has its own idiosyncratic supply chain, and Apeel works to pinpoint where time has the most value. He has also learned that delivering avocados to Europeans throughout the year means working with lots of different countries (Chile, Israel, Morocco, South Africa, etc.), each of which has its own unique supply chain, regulatory hurdles and distinct avocado.
“Working at a startup, you just have to really love puzzles,” he says. “Your reward for solving your current puzzle? A bigger and more complicated puzzle.”
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(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 8, 2021, and has the title “WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Apeel CEO James Rogers Wants to Extend the Shelf Life of Your Avocados and Oranges.”)