Puerto Rico-based Semillero Ventures, a self-described food and agriculture investment fund, will inject $1.8 million into Seal the Seasons, a North Carolina company that partners with farmers to freeze fresh produce to deliver to grocery stores 365 days a year.
Part of the investment will go toward backing Seal the Seasons’ entry into the Puerto Rico market, where it will look to sign up farmers producing fruit — initially papaya, pineapple and mango — to be distributed locally and stateside, Patrick Mateer, CEO of Seal the Seasons told this media outlet.
“Anyone with more than five acres of production can usually work for us. And if you advocate for farms working together, you can reach the minimum for a processor. We sell the product affordably in the store so that everybody can buy local,” Mateer said. “Local shouldn’t be exclusive or a thing only for the wealthy.”
Seal the Seasons was established in 2015, with the mission to build local supply chains by partnering with family farms to freeze produce in season and deliver it to grocery stores. The company sells fruit on a state-by-state and region-by-region basis, currently covering 28 states. The farmers provide Seal the Seasons with a range of fruit, from blueberries to strawberries, that are sold nationwide in the freezer section.
Meanwhile, Semillero Ventures is a growth-stage private equity investment fund specializing in agriculture, food, agribusiness and appropriate agricultural technology with Puerto Rico being its primary geographic focus.
The two came together about two years ago, when Semillero Ventures engaged with Mateer and his company. That was when the former began evaluating the latter’s growth, seeing how receptive and how “coachable” Mateer and his team were, Alex Borschow, managing partner at Semillero Venture, said.
In January of this year, Seal the Seasons provided Semillero Ventures with numbers showing they had reached 700 stores across the U.S. mainland and were going to achieve some $750,000 in revenue for the fiscal year, Borschow added.
“That was when we decided it was time to seriously evaluate and do our due diligence to invest in Seal the Seasons,” Borschow said. Semillero Ventures makes capital investments coupled with providing collaborative support and specialized management, distribution, marketing and logistics expertise, according to its website.
The plan is to conduct an evaluation over the next six to 12 months of the potential for Seal the Seasons to find producer partners — farmers — and a processing partner in Puerto Rico with the capacity to harvest the fruit and run it through the freezing and bagging process, Borschow said.
“There’s a huge opportunity to substitute imports and export potential for farmers,” he said, noting that part of a typical harvest usually does not make it into the fresh retail market, but can be frozen and sold in bulk, or put into individual bags and sold frozen.
Mateer said papaya, pineapple and mango farmers are sought initially because those fruit “are not really accessible in Georgia and Florida, but there are many grocery stores there that would love to have U.S. grown tropical fruit.”
The $1.8 million investment will go toward backing Seal the Seasons’ operational growth, enough working capital, additional staff and marketing strategies. The growth includes its incursion into Puerto Rico, where Seal the Seasons will focus on finding an “anchor partner” both on the production and processing sides, Mateer said.
“We want to make sure we find a partner who’s willing to do this for the long-term and not pull the plug after six months,” Borschow said.
“Semillero is looking for these really good producers in Puerto Rico and we can make an investment, if they need an investment, in equipment and infrastructure. We’re in a position to make that investment,” Borschow added.