Food coatings are fundamental to the food industry, but the use of chemicals or unnatural products is also a point of contention. Akorn’s solution is an all-natural food coating that’s plant-based, reduces moisture loss, and works with several products.
We talked with Anthony Zografos, founder and CEO of Akorn, to learn more about the idea.
Akorn started in late 2019. Our mission is to develop ways to extend the shelf life of fresh products and, in the process, reduce waste and improve the nutrition of people globally. Our technology enables growers to deliver fresh food with reduced refrigeration just about anywhere.
We’ve done this by developing edible coatings, which we resource from by-products of rice and corn. We upcycle these by-products to create coatings, which are applied to fresh products during processing.
Absolutely! That’s a key differential: it’s not only scalable but also sustainable, because the raw materials used to create our coatings are by-products of rice and corn, which are abundant.
The coatings we develop are made to work with existing equipment, which means the capital investment needed is minimal. They’re also appropriate for use by remote farmers, who don’t have modern packing capabilities.
To be clear, edible coatings exist today but this technology goes back thousands of years. Since early times, people would use wax to protect and store food for an extended period of time.
We’ve come a long way since then and there are new methods that don’t simply extend the edible phase of food. People want food that’s more than just edible, they want delicious, fresh, and “crave-able” food.
The coatings that exist today have very minimal functionality. Essentially, the only thing they do is prevent moisture loss. But there are a lot of ways by which food exceeds shelf life. Moisture loss is only one of them.
Our coating is fundamentally different from everything else in the market today because it does not only reduce moisture loss but, more importantly, it moderates the respiration rate of fruits and vegetables. By extension, Akorn’s coating slows down the ripening process. It allows fruit and veg to be harvested when it’s fresh and delicious, and then ripen slowly.
Over the last 30 years, there’s been a significant drop in the consumption of peaches – about 40 to 50%. This is because people were disappointed by the taste.
Peaches are picked when they’re very green so that they can be transported and delivered to supermarkets and still have some “life” left in them. But peaches don’t develop much sugar if they’re picked very early, so the taste is disappointing.
Our coating enables peaches to be picked later when the flavor has developed more. Because it slows down the ripening process, it allows producers to deliver peaches to customers that last longer and still taste delicious.
I chose corn for several reasons: firstly, the material we use is abundant, so we can get it at a very reasonable price, which allows us to deliver an economically viable solution. Secondly, the corn protein we use has unique properties that make it ideal for edible coatings.
Other edible proteins are made of silk, but if there’s a choice between eating corn or silk, which one would you prefer? Most people prefer to eat corn and wear silk. There are very few proteins that can act as edible coatings and even fewer that meet customers’ expectations.