Fresh blueberries 8 weeks after harvest? RipeLocker raises $5M to extend life of produce with patented containers

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The newsRipeLocker raised $5 million in fresh funding, money that the Bainbridge Island, Wash., ag-tech startup will use to sell patented “low-atmosphere” containers designed to preserve recently harvested flowers and produce. It also announced that U.S. Department of Agriculture started trials with RipeLocker, part of an effort to examine whether the technology can reduce chemicals typically used to extend the storage life of produce. The new round of funding — provided by angel investors from the agriculture, technology and shipping industries — comes on top of a $2 million round last summer and it brings total funding to $12 million.

Roll out: The 7-person company is still in the early stages of product adoption, noting in a press release that the first wave of containers will be sold beginning this summer. The company tells GeekWire that it is currently building 500 units, with half of those going to commercial customers in the flower, hops and berry business who’ve already performed testing. The other half will be used in trials with new crops and customers, who will have the option to purchase the units with an ongoing user fee or simply lease the units.

An ag-tech wave: Washington has produced a number of ag-tech startups in recent years, not a surprise given the state’s strong agriculture connections.

  • Bellevue’s Pollen System is using drones and sophisticated mapping to help wine growers and other farmers better understand what crops need water or are susceptible to disease.
  • And just last week GeekWire reported on Carbon Robotics, a Seattle startup led by Isilon Systems co-founder Paul Mikesell whose self-driving robot uses artificial intelligence to identify weeds growing in fields of vegetables, then zaps them with thermal bursts from lasers.
  • TerraClear, another AI-based hardware system, is being created by Smartsheet co-founder Brent Frei to remove pesky rocks from farmers’ fields.
  • What’s interesting about this new wave of ag-tech startups? Interestingly, they are all founded by very experienced software entrepreneurs who’ve each seen big payouts and exits in their past companies.

A father-son team: RipeLocker is led by George Lobisser, who previously co-owned and led Pace International, a post-harvest food company focusing on transportation and logistics. His son, Kyle Lobisser, a devices engineer who previously worked for Boeing, Apple, and Zee, helped create the storage container which creates a low-oxygen vacuum that keeps air saturated with water vapor. This system, which is patented, prevents berries and other produce from losing moisture.

Blueberries, hops and flowers: Founded in 2016 and after extensive testing, the company now believes that it is on the cusp of upending the fresh flower and produce supply chain. In recent tests, the company noted that the pallet-size containers preserved freshly cut roses for four weeks; fresh hops for six weeks and organic blueberries for eight weeks. In the case of the blueberries, the company noted that the berries emerged in “pristine condition.”

Of course, an AI angle: Over time, the company is hoping to collect data on how best to preserve produce: “Our ultimate goal is to use the vast amount of data we collect in the RipeLockers for machine learning as to how we hold the perishables,” the company notes.