When Seal the Seasons CEO and Founder Patrick Mateer attended UNC-Chapel Hill, he rode his bike to the Carrboro Farmers Market every Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m. He ran the donation station there, collecting excess food and bringing it to a local community center after the market ended.
From those Saturday mornings, Mateer began getting to know the local growers. He saw the passion behind their work and how they wanted to bring healthy food to their communities, but also saw that they faced large challenges. If a rainstorm hit, they often couldn’t sell all of their produce, as it wouldn’t keep fresh as long. To thrive, the farmers really needed multiple ways to sell their product, Mateer said.
At the same time, Mateer was witnessing the love that customers had for local food. These customers preferred the quality as well as knowing the stories behind where their food came from and how it was grown.
“Americans are passionate about food and local food,” Mateer said. “They want to know more about what they’re putting in their bodies. I think with Covid, those trends are only continuing.”
So Mateer founded Chapel Hill-based Seal the Seasons in 2015. After seven years of growth, the startup now partners with local growers in six regions across the country—the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Midwest, Pacific Northwest and Pacific Southwest—to bring locally grown frozen products to customers in their own backyards.
While many startups struggled to reimagine themselves during Covid-19, the pandemic only raised customers’ awareness of what they were putting in their bodies, creating a greater demand for Seal the Seasons. People wanted to know where their food was grown and whether it was grown ethically, Mateer said.
“It’s more than just the food,” Mateer said. “It’s about how it was done and the process behind it.”
Mateer said Seal the Seasons, which will present at CED’s Venture Connect summit on April 7, wants to make it as easy as possible for farmers to sell into the frozen market, opening up for them a new way of selling. With Seal the Seasons, farmers do exactly that and get their produce out as frozen products in the more than 4,000 grocery stores Seal the Seasons serves.
“It comes back to our core belief that the best food comes from our communities,” Mateer said. “We want to rebuild those connections between Americans and our local growers.”
Three main categories of customers
Seal the Seasons also sells directly to consumers through its website. So far, the startup has targeted three primary types of customers.
One is the higher-income, organic, healthy-eating family looking for the highest quality foods. But Seal the Seasons’ products do well outside of the ritzier, urban and suburban areas where these customers may congregate. Rural residents also enjoy getting locally-sourced, frozen food—a category that Mateer calls “hometown heroes.”
“It’s not just a high-income product for young professionals,” Mateer said. “Your ‘hometown hero’ is someone who probably lives in the same place they grew up. They really identify with where they’re from. They’re proud of where they’re from, and they want to support rural farmers.”
The third group are what Mateer refers to as chef-types who always want to cook with the highest-quality ingredients.
The Triangle has been a major supporter of Seal the Seasons, both in purchasing its products and providing funding. From venture capital equity, grant funding, institutional and community debt providers, Seal the Seasons has raised over $10 million.
Since 2015, Seal the Seasons has grown from the startup that initially focused just on locally grown fruits and completed all of its manufacturing and freezing by itself. Today, Seal the Seasons partners directly with the growers to package the product. Locally grown vegetables are also available, with other products—like blended smoothie portions with flavors of wild blueberry chocolate and peanut butter cacao—coming soon as the startup expands.
Throughout the journey, Mateer said he’s been blessed with a supportive entrepreneurial community with advisors that facilitated a lot of great knowledge. But sometimes they have conflicting advice, so it’s important to keep your own intuition in mind.
“Getting advice and asking for help is important,” Mateer said. “But it’s equally important to trust your gut. You have to trust your heart and trust your passion for starting the business as well.”