Avalara co-founders invest in $2M round for RipeLocker, a startup that aims to keep fruit fresh longer

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For George Lobisser, it all comes down to berries.

A longtime vet of the food industry, he’s seen first-hand how confounding blueberries, raspberries, and cherries can be. Despite year-round demand for berries, their brief window of seasonality and short shelf-life make the economics difficult for growers and processors.

“Consumers want berries year-round,” he said. “I eat blueberries all year round and if you’re eating blueberries in January, you’re getting them from the southern hemisphere. If you’re getting them from the southern hemisphere, they’re traveling. And if they’re traveling, they’re spoiling.”

Blueberries stored in a RipeLocker for 75 days. (RipeLocker Photo)

Lobisser believes he’s found an answer: RipeLocker. He built the patented technology with his son, Kyle Lobisser, a devices engineer who previously worked for Boeing, Apple, and Zee, the electric airplane startup formed by former Google CEO Larry Page. The storage device creates an extremely low-oxygen vacuum that keeps air saturated with water vapor, preventing berries and other produce from losing moisture. The device is the size of a pallet, which Lobisser insisted on to meet the demands of commercial food producers, RipeLocker’s customers.

RipeLocker has raised $7 million from angel investors, including a $2 million round that closed this week.

The latest round came from three friends: Avalara co-founders Scott McFarlane and Jared Vogt, and early investor Gary Waterman. As Lobisser tells it, they tasted 98-day-old blueberries fresh from a RipeLocker and asked, “how much do you want?”

Before RipeLocker, Lobisser co-owned and led Pace International, a major post-harvest food company focusing on transportation and logistics.

The father-and-son duo developed prototypes for RipeLocker that large-scale produce growers are currently testing and they created a method for manufacturing the devices at scale using injection molds.

The six-person startup is based on Bainbridge Island but has employees throughout the Seattle region. RipeLocker has eschewed venture capital funding until now but plans to raise a larger investment round to scale up. Lobisser plans to have a commercial product available for purchase in the next six months.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to note Kyle Lobisser previously worked for Zee.