16AGRITECHCAT5: Extending the availability and flavour life of UK apples using innovative photonics

Lead Research Organisation: Cranfield University
Department Name: School of Water, Energy and Environment

Abstract

The British apple industry is continuously asked by UK retailers to extend availability; this being achieved by implementing ever more sophisticated storage technologies. Whilst this demand is driven by a brand loyalty, the industry is increasingly challenged by imports especially towards the end of the current storage season. In order that primary production of UK apples can be fully utilised and be made more competitive, a paradigm shift is needed to improve how apples are stored such that the focus is moved towards 'flavour-life' rather than solely being driven by firmness and Brix specifications. The proposed work will build upon recent research to develop novel (bio)sensors and photonics to better inform physiologically-targeted controlled atmosphere interventions which will control ripening whilst maintaining 'flavour-life'. This offers a route to storage extension to help reduce the reliance on imports and waste.

Technical Summary

he British apple industry is continuously asked by UK retailers to extend availability; this being achieved by implementing ever more sophisticated storage technologies. Whilst this demand is driven by a brand loyalty, the industry is increasingly challenged by imports especially towards the end of the current storage season. In order that primary production of UK apples can be fully utilised and be made more competitive, a paradigm shift is needed to improve how apples are stored such that the focus is moved towards flavour and taste rather than solely being driven by firmness and Brix specifications. The proposed work will build upon recent research to develop novel (bio)sensors and photonics to better inform physiologically-targeted controlled atmosphere interventions which will control ripening whilst maintaining 'flavour-life' and taste. This offers a route to storage extension to help reduce the reliance on imports and waste.

Planned Impact

he project seeks to advance sustainable intensification of apple growing in the UK by maintaining flavour quality during storage. Every year a total of 605,000 tonnes of top fruit are sold in the UK every year. The UK apple industry is worth £190m at retail and supports many jobs in the industry directly, on farms and in transport. To achieve year round apple supply 145,000 tonnes of apples (24% of total volume) are typically stored for ca. 6 months each season depending on variety. The supply of UK grown top fruit is therefore restricted to a 26 week marketing window from September to end of March due to late stored fruit not competing in quality terms with new season Southern Hemisphere fruit. Apple cv. Gala represents 50% of the industry but is threatened by foreign imports in late season, when the flavour can deteriorate, despite firmness and Brix readings remaining above retailer requirements. This represents a current and tangible risk to the sustainability of supply of some important UK-grown varieties (e.g. cvs. Gala and Braeburn).With the UK Gala tonnage ca. 60,000 tonnes, there is a need to expand the marketing window, whilst continuing to offer the consumer a premium product. In addition to supply, lower grade UK fruit in April/May would turn the consumer away from re-purchase for an 8 week window thus affecting total sales. Furthermore, a recent increase of 20% volume in the UK has culminated in a -4% decline in values given the limited marketing window and high participation in promotions to move the fruit through the supply chain. The supply of UK grown fruit is predicted to increase by a further 14% in the next 3 years (20,000 tonnes). The challenge is therefore to extend the season into April /May without compromising the consumer experience in term of quality of purchase. A better understanding of how the flavour of British apple fruit can be better maintained would provide an opportunity to implement appropriate technologies and extend the British season, reduce the reliance on imports where there could be competition (e.g. cv. Gala and Braeburn). The project sets out to implement physiologically targeted modified atmosphere technologies together with the unique allied models of temporal changes in flavour. The Consortium
envisage that, notwithstanding the potential financial and environmental benefit of displacing imports, that the desired extension of 6 weeks sought within this research would equate to an additional £10m at retail for UK cv. Gala fruit alone. This sum would increase when extended to other important UK-grown apple cultivars (e.g. Braeburn, Rubens, Kanzi and Evelina). Extending 'flavour-life' and decreasing the incidence of internal disorders of UK-derived apple fruit would increase availability, safeguard associated jobs, support the UK Government's self-sufficiency agenda, reduce waste and help protect the UK's thousand-year heritage in growing apples.It is expected that the project will act as a catalyst for a paradigm shift in the way UK apples are stored whereby postharvest storage technologies are physiologically targeted and focussed on maintaining 'flavour-life' as opposed to using blanket treatments throughout storage for life extension alone.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The project has recently finished however, research has demonstrated that current technology [ethylene binding inhibition], through the postharvest application of 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP), used to extend storage life of UK apples can be replaced by using improved dynamically controlled atmosphere (DCA) as developed in this research. The project is covered by a NDA so work will be patented and published thereafter. The main findings from this project are summarised below:
DCA and CA significantly delayed degradation of health promoting compounds including ascorbic acid and phenolic compounds, retaining the nutritional value of apples for longer.
Another significant finding from this project was that 1-MCP treatment prior to CA or DCA storage did not have any additive effect on maintain apple quality traits. This could have significant financial implications for growers if they are confident that fruit picked during the ideal harvest window, does not require that additional cost of 1-MCP treatment, yet will still deliver good eating quality characteristics that consumers are looking for when stores are opened and throughout shelf life.
Also, several biomarkers of senescence were identified, with abscisic acid (ABA) being the most important, which can be used to predict apple quality and shelf-life.
Exploitation Route The project is covered by a NDA so work will be patented and published thereafter. We plan to publish two papers by summer 2020
The findings from this project, have already resulted in a 20-30% reduction in the use of 1-MCP from growers associated with the industrial partners. The benefits of this reduction in 1-MCP application are both financial resulting in major saving to growers, as well as qualitative, resulting in an 'improvement' in flavour (and potentially a reduction in customer complaints) as it is widely publicised that the use of 1-MCP on early harvested fruit impacts on the flavour. Furthermore, this project has contributed in improving confidence in DCA storage, which at the start of this project was only just starting to be utilised commercially.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description The findings from the research have enabled industry partners to replace their current technology with that developed in this project [improved DCA storage]. The technology is covered by a NDA; however research has shown that the developed DCA technology can maintain apple quality during storage without the need for additional ethylene inhibitor treatment. This finding with on average may save up to £1M for a large apple supplier in any one season.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic

 
Description involved apple growers are now reviewing the use of ripening delaying chemical
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact This project aims to develop a new system and SOPs for changes in apple quality with renewed emphasis on flavour and taste-related attributes, allowing fruit to be marketed for a further six weeks or possibly even longer, whilst reducing wastage. This should give retailers and consumers alike confidence that UK apples can be marketed whilst still delivering excellent eating quality. With UK gala volumes predicted to rise to almost 65,000 tonnes by 2016-17, it is imperative that a plan for selling this additional volume is formulated. Whilst some of this extra volume can be sold through import substitution, there is little scope for selling fruit any earlier. A logical solution would be to lengthen the season, provided customer expectations are still satisfied.
 
Description Horticultural Crop Quality and Food Loss Prevention Network
Amount £375,715 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/T010819/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2020 
End 01/2024
 
Description farming business 
Organisation Avalon Produce Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Embedded scientific rigour into the organisation
Collaborator Contribution supply of fresh produce and expertise
Impact joint publications to follow
Start Year 2016
 
Description BBC News - Look East [Dec 2018] 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC Article on Look East - https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bw4bqs/look-east-west-evening-news-08012019 [11 mins]
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bw4bqs/look-east-west-evening-news-08012019
 
Description Oxford Farming Conference 2018 - BBSRC Exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Oxford Farming Conference 2018 - BBSRC Exhibition
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description UK Agri-Tech centres capabilities to "Transform food production" event - plant & crop focus, Morpeth, 26th March 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact presentations given of dynamic controlled atmosphere technique
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://agri-epicentre.com/event/uk-agri-tech-centres-capabilities-to-transform-food-production-even...