Ryp Labs featured at Fruit Logistica 2023
A waste-saving food technology, offered by Ryp Labs, has been named as one of 20 start-ups featured at Fruit Logistica 2023, which runs Feb. 8-10 in Berlin.
These firms are recognized under the slogan ‘Disrupt Agriculture’ at the fourth FRUIT LOGISTICA Start-up Day. This special format is for start-ups developing groundbreaking products, projects, and ideas.
Moody Soliman, the CEO of Seattle-based Ryp Labs, in recent days met by videoconference with FreshFruitPortal.com to go into depth explaining Ryp Labs' original technology, StixFresh. The firm describes StixFresh “as a food label sticker coated with a safe, all-natural, patent-pending formulation that works in the vapor phase to create a protective layer around produce, slowing down over-ripening and spoilage.”
Soliman took the time with us to unravel this statement about his complex product which he dubs “a proprietary formulation.”
He explains this is about extending fruit shelf life and reducing food waste. “The source of why we even came up with this is, when you look at the size and the magnitude of the problem it’s absolutely enormous. The large packing houses of the world can process up to 20 million pieces of fruit per day. And so we really wanted to come up with a solution that was easy to use, can be applied anywhere along the supply chain, and is economical, of course, and scalable for our customers.
“And so, that’s where we got really excited about the sticker concept. It definitely wasn’t easy. It’s been a good five years and counting of development, and continued development to be able to optimize this.”
Ryp Labs’ formulation can be applied to the stickers used every day to carry fruit brands. The food-grade formulation is applied to the surface of the sticker and is slowly released to protect the fruit from premature rotting.
The key was the ability to identify the specific compounds that have certain attributes that can then extend the shelf life of fresh produce.
This technology is potentially useful not only in the produce industry but for foods like seafood and meat. However, Soliman emphasizes that a business that initially tries to do everything will accomplish nothing.
For the time being, Ryp is largely focused on extending strawberry shelf life. Testing is very successful with other commodities, although Ryp’s formulation is perfectly suited for strawberries for many reasons.
The stickers work perfectly from a placement inside clamshell lids.
Strawberries are a non-climacteric fruit, which means they are not ethylene sensitive, and Ryp is not about ethylene. Soliman notes that ethylene-fighting technology has long been served by ethylene blockers or ethylene absorbers that essentially put the fruit in a form of hibernation and can therefore extend the shelf life. This is particularly useful for items like apples, bananas and avocados.
But to extend shelf life in other produce segments, “we are particularly focused on the pre-mature rotting causes, beyond ripening . . That can be either by directly targeting certain fungi and bacteria that grow on the fruit and inhibiting it from growing any further; or stimulating the fruit’s immune system to be able to stave off those infections and become more resistant.”
If this sounds easy, you’re not listening
To reach the cusp of commercial reality in 2023, the five-year effort has involved “quite an interesting combination of different disciplines. We have microbiologists and plant physiologists, to understand the biology side of things and identify different compounds.” Those plant scientists mostly work their biology from a fully functional, operating lab in Leuven, Belgium.
When he’s not on the road, Soliman works near the development and engineering efforts in Seattle with material scientists, chemical engineers and chemists. When FreshFruitPortal caught up with Soliman he was in Kuala Lumpur, meeting with the people who developed the original concept. Soliman has a full-time staff of 12, plus four contract professionals.
Ryp is akin to another technology, product coating, which has “really been around for a while but resurfaced and is becoming quite popular.” Soliman notes that an entire fruit can receive a natural tasteless odorless coating that prevents oxygen from coming in and moisture from leaving the fruit. Therefore, similar to ethylene treatments, “you put the fruit in a form of hibernation and can therefore extend the shelf life.”
Soliman credits coating technologies for being quite effective on certain fruits. “But one of the big challenges is that it’s very difficult to control. It requires capital equipment installation. That is sometimes disruptive to the supply chain.”
He adds, “for certain fruits, it’s actually almost impossible to use the coating today, at least as of now. Like strawberries, for example. They are very delicate and very sensitive. They need to be handled by hand. Not to mention, without going too much into the technical side of things, there are climacteric versus non-climacteric fruits. There are a lot of factors that come into play.”
Ryp Labs can protect strawberries, which is one of the firm’s top targets. Through exhaustive testing, strawberries “are one of the ones that we’re most successful with.” For one thing, they’re shipped in clamshells, which is ideal for carrying the formulated label inside the lid.
Through Ryp Labs’ work with one of the largest global retailers, which is “one of our most mature pilot customers, that’s about to turn into a commercial customer, we added two days to the shelf life of their strawberries. We also doubled the shelf life of their grapes and added 20 days to their citrus fruit. Stickers on papayas and mangos were also quite successful.”
While plastic-based stickers work, it’s best using paper-based stickers. Beyond technical matters, many suppliers are gravitating towards paper stickers, anyway, given compostability and biodegradability requirements rolling toward our industry. Packers already applying stickers will need no new machinery to use Ryp’s formulations.
Going to market
Ryp Labs’ first purchase order will come from a U.S. company doing business in Costa Rica. This firm has been doing a lot of successful testing. Ryp also has a lot of traction in Belgium, naturally, given the company lab there. Another advantage of the Belgian business is its huge year-round greenhouse strawberry production. It’s a similar situation in Japan, “where we have very good results and traction.”
This isn’t a difficult sale, Soliman indicates. “Once you talk about the science and explain it, people get it. It is simple conceptually but very difficult to implement.”
Plants produce materials to protect themselves from fungi and bacteria that would otherwise kill the plant. Ryp Labs has taken that plant-based chemistry to derive its formulation. “So, everything we do and work with, is food-grade and GRAS, which stands for Generally Recognized As Safe by the FDA. So, our stickers are perfectly safe. You can actually eat them, even though it probably doesn’t taste very good. But it has to be edible. They all have to be food grade. Everything in there is food grade and it’s natural compounds that you have in your food every day, either used as food flavorings or food additives. But we were able to identify the specific compounds that have certain attributes that can then extend the shelf life of fresh produce.
Like many businesses, Ryp Labs faces volume-based pricing. Soliman notes, “the more we can make the more we can lower the cost and eventually it becomes an ROI play. If you’re a customer and you’re experiencing X number of losses – X percentage of loss - and you’re adding this extra cost now to pay for the sticker, how much do you need to reduce the losses to offset the cost of the sticker? The interesting thing now is not just reducing the losses but how much more profit margin can you add back into your bottom line?”
Soliman offers an example of shipping 100,000 clamshells of strawberries. That retailer has a tolerance cutoff of 8% spoilage. Anything above 8% the retailer is not going to accept the bad product. “If that happens, if that shipment gets rejected, you as the supplier are responsible for resorting, reshipping and repackaging. So there is a huge cost associated with it. So, you start factoring all these numbers into play and all of a sudden that added cost – becomes worthwhile.”
But he continues, the benefit is not just loss reduction. “What can you add to your profit margin? Because now instead of having to take the 8,000 clamshells and throw those in the trash, you can actually sell those 8,000 clamshells for added profit margin. And then you take it one step further and start looking at actually selling the customer a new market. You’re not selling a new technology that’s going to lower their losses, you’re selling a technology that’s going to open new markets. And that all of a sudden becomes very interesting to the customer.”
More on the science
Soliman wrote for FreshFruitPortal the following explanation of Ryp Labs’ science:
Plants produce natural volatile compounds (secondary metabolites) to protect themselves from harmful environmental conditions. Since plants are rooted to the ground, they can’t escape if an invasive species, such as a pest or microbe attacks it. So, instead, they release volatile compounds in the air to protect themselves at a distance. For example, if you walk by a lavender plant, the lavender scent you can smell as a human, is a safe and natural volatile compound the plant releases, which has many beneficial attributes including antimicrobial ones.
At Ryp Labs, we research and identify specific compounds within these secondary metabolites, that are (1) safe for humans, and (2) can fight specific post-harvest diseases or stimulate the produce's immune system to resist pre-mature rotting, in the vapor phase. We then engineer a controlled release delivery system that encapsulates these compounds and controls their release rate. As a result, we develop a safe and effective formulation that can be applied to numerous materials that already exist in the supply chain, such as stickers, which serve as the delivery mechanism for our solution.
ON Jan. 18, 2023, Ryp Labs was named Top Global Startup at the UN Climate Conference, COP27, and selected to Cleantech Group's annual 50 to watch list for its broader mission to impact food waste and shape a safer, more sustainable food supply chain. Soliman received the prestigious award in part because of his firm’s ambitious mission to put an end to food waste. Reducing food waste gases will slow climate change.