Q&A

Aiming for Growth While Reducing Waste: CFO Bill Strong

“We often find the investments with the most positive environmental impact have the biggest financial upside, too,” said the Apeel Sciences CFO.

As technology integrates itself into every fiber of the economy, food tends to be no different. Making its way into food tech is Apeel Sciences, a Santa Barbara-based company that has developed a peel-like product derived from the skins of fruits and vegetables. It is placed on produce to preserve and prolong its shelf life.

For Apeel’s customer’s, the product can pay for itself, as it reduces food waste when applied upstream in the supply chain. When instituted correctly at scale, the Apeel product can cut costs for grocers that waste millions of dollars a year in expired produce. 

Apeel CFO Bill Strong is balancing raising capital, growth projections, and the resources needed to develop, sustain, and implement a product. The product requires a ton of collaboration between science, technology, and finance to develop at scale, a challenge he has been working at for nearly six and a half years. 


Bill Strong

CFO, Apeel Sciences

  • First CFO position: 2019
  • Previous position at company: VP, Finance
  • Notable previous companies:
    • Idealab
    • EY

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

ADAM ZAKI: What is the biggest difference between your role in food tech and the role of a CFO in another industry?

Bill Strong: As CFO of a food tech startup, specifically in produce, one of the more challenging aspects is the global, dispersed aspect of the supply side of the business that is necessary to fully deliver our products and services. That forces you at a very early stage to mature the business rapidly and build systems and infrastructure to enable that scale, which impacts organizational structure, investment decisions, and capital strategy.

We often find the investments with the most positive environmental impact have the biggest financial upside, too.

I’m a lot more focused on environmental metrics than CFOs in other industries. Apeel is at the forefront of aligning our investments with sustainable outcomes. We consider not only the return on investment from a financial perspective but also the impact of investments from a sustainability standpoint. We run a full environmental profit and loss (P&L) statement alongside our financial P&L. That enables us to assess investment decisions through the lens of their impact on our environmental profit margin. We often find the investments with the most positive environmental impact have the biggest financial upside, too. 

In terms of collaboration with other areas of the company, is there one area you are focusing on?

STRONG: Our sustainability team is integrated into many other areas of the company. They report to me and run all the modeling, Life Cycle Analyses, and environmental P&L work. They also ensure we are using best practices for making sustainability claims to build brand trust and avoid risk from greenwashing. In addition, our regulatory team, which also reports to me, is the tip of the spear in opening up new products and markets to enable continued commercial growth.

With our primary objective being to develop and commercialize sustainable solutions for curbing food waste, it is essential that the rigor of our environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting and management is a priority. Data capture along the entire supply chain where Apeel plays a role is not confined to our own operations, so it requires collaboration not only within our company but also with our external supplier partners.

When partnering with the supply chains of grocers, what goes into the partnership? 

STRONG: Apeel produce is currently on shelves in tens of thousands of grocery retail stores across North America and Europe. We work closely with our partners, from integrating into their supply chains to helping provide a better customer experience in the produce aisle and driving foot traffic into retail locations. To enable this, we’ve established a global network of supply partners to deliver Apeel-protected produce to our retail partners.

To ensure we have a good understanding of retailers’ needs, we’ve established a retail advisory board led by Jim Smits, our vice president of retail advisory. He was an executive in the grocery industry for more than 40 years and has been engaging our partners on everything from fresh innovation to supply chain optimization.

Where are you allocating capital?

STRONG: We have been investing in many different areas of the business, but especially in research and development. We’ve had strong demand for Apeel’s plant-based protection, which keeps fruits and vegetables fresh for longer, but now we’re looking at even more ways we can help protect produce, avoid food waste, and provide value to customers. 

As our technology platform grows, so will the value that we can offer our partners. Ultimately, we are inspiring a smarter supply chain built from technology to maximize fresh fruits and vegetables’ lifespan, quality, and sustainability. Apeel’s technologies give the supply chain more time and flexibility to explore sustainable alternatives to transportation, storage, and packaging methods, all while preventing food waste. 

We are inspiring a smarter supply chain built from technology to maximize fresh fruits and vegetables’ lifespan, quality, and sustainability.

How does the sustainability and eco-friendliness of the product impact your role?

STRONG: Sustainability is deeply ingrained in our culture so it’s always top of mind in every decision or investment. Managing the business to predictable and profitable financial outcomes is of course my primary focus, but I believe the environmental impact of business decisions will become closely interlinked for companies across industries. Since the output of our products is a positive impact on the planet, we are able to work with our retail partners to help them attain their sustainability goals. That enables us to drive top-line revenue growth while growing our sustainability impact at the same time.