SANTA ROSA, CA - What does “Fresh” mean? According to industry consultant Mark Cassius and Alan Shulman, Founder of phototech company AppliColor Inc., the answers are subjective and varied.
“People have their own opinions of what ‘looks fresh,’” Alan explains. “We’ve developed a way to identify the freshness and quality of produce with digital images and measurements using an app and a smartphone. The mobile-phone app is called ‘Poma Fresh.’ We use spectral analytic science, which has been affirmed by hundreds of USDA studies, but up to this time required a spectrometer to take measurements. A spectrometer makes a single-point determination on a very small area of produce.”
Poma Fresh, he tells me, can easily take tens of thousands of pixel test points on a single vegetable to present a more accurate assessment.
This can take a picture and, in something that looks like an x-ray scan, immediately provide an objective laboratory-quality assessment of freshness. Mark has many years of experience bringing fresh produce to the table, and shares he believes Poma Fresh offers an avenue for more transparency among shippers, retailers, and consumers, plus a new standard for fresh product that is accessible by anyone with a smartphone.
“There are several applications: there’s one for shippers, who can use this to verify and differentiate their level of freshness from the competition, one potentially for retailers to control their inbound quality and monitor the display in-store, and the consumer aspect of not knowing what to buy,” Mark says. “It’s crazy to think you can take a picture of something and see how fresh it is.”
Produce, the two emphasize, is not uniform and a single vegetable or piece of fruit may manifest a range of qualities—one part of a broccoli head can have a different exposure to sunlight and temperature than another.
What can Poma Fresh help? A few examples Alan shares include:
- Growers could make better harvest and cultivation decisions
- Distributors could ensure quality consistency, eliminating substandard products while featuring premium products
- Retail distribution centers could document quality control and shipment acceptance. Distribution transportation decisions can be based on qualified freshness rather than FIFO procedures
- Retail stores could monitor on-shelf display rotations and replenishment schedules to reduce shrink
- Home delivery services could validate produce freshness
- Consumers could make better purchasing decisions and improve utilization practices
So how does Poma Fresh work?
Alan explains that chloroplasts absorb light and send out energy, a process that fades as freshness is diminished.
“Photosynthesis is an electrochemical process that directly relates to freshness. The way things absorb light is key to measuring freshness. We’re using color to predict quality, taste, and remaining shelf-life,” he says.
An additional benefit of Poma Fresh is that it could compile a database identifying seasonal trends that may assist corporate buying decisions, predict influences of weather on quality and yields and provide an objective measurable standard for quality by region, grower, and season.
“With that information, we might be able to help retailers increase their sales and productivity and add to the bottom line. By ensuring that everything is as fresh as possible, retailers will be able to optimize sales, get repeat sales and be recognized for having the best product available,” Mark tells me.
Alan shows me photos displaying fresh levels for broccoli, pineapples, avocados, mangos, potatoes, and other produce—most of which can be imaged and measured.
He speculates that the industry will creatively utilize Poma Fresh in ways yet to be discovered. “There are going to be many more applications for this tool. The key to its success is going to be its accessibility—a mobile app that consumers can download from the internet and a smartphone camera—owned by more than two billion users worldwide.”
With horizons yet to be explored, it will be interesting to see what doors this new technology might open for the fresh produce industry. Poma Fresh hopes to establish individual digital standards for all agricultural products. To witness this application for yourself, swing by booth #1940 while visiting United Fresh, June 25-27.