In Edible-Alpha® podcast episode #27, Tera interviews Patrick Mateer, the Founder and CEO of Seal The Seasons, a brand of produce frozen on a state-by-state or region-by-region basis that is then distributed to those same communities’ grocery stores. Their mission is to provide market opportunities for a wide variety of farmers and fresh frozen produce for people in food deserts, including rural people. They are headquartered in North Carolina but currently work in the northeast and southeastern United States as well. Seal The Seasons views themselves as forming a partnership between the growers and the retailers, matching supply with consumer demand. Their core products include both individual fruits (for example, New Jersey Blueberries) and blends.
They began production in one of the partitions of a shared-use commissary kitchen facility where they installed an Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) production freezer. This gave them more control of production deadlines and processes than they would have with a co-packer, but they quickly found that they did not have enough freezer capacity. They began partnering with a co-packer in 2017 and almost doubled their gross margin contributions as a result, passing more money to their farmer suppliers.
While they currently only produce products for their own brand, Patrick could see how they could benefit from private label sales if they brought manufacturing back in-house, at the right scale. Both Patrick and Tera see potential in bringing more innovation to the branding present in the frozen section. While it is difficult to demo a frozen product, Patrick has seen customers respond to Seal The Seasons’ vibrant packaging and messaging in addition to price promotions, in-store features/displays, store circular placement, newspapers/traditional media and connecting via online media to the grocery’s eCommerce site. Smoothies, baking and yogurt/granola are some of the top uses of their product, and they are trying to promote with local granolas to gain customers.
Seal The Seasons has been growing exponentially and are now in almost 1,000 stores. They have to work closely with the growers to keep supply with demand and manage cash flow as they purchase large quantities of fruit. Though they thought they would need to raise $1 million to $2 million to finance their operation, now they estimate that they will need two or three times that amount due to increased consumer demand for their products and supporting their sales growth in turn. They did get an SBA loan in 2016 in addition to raising convertible notes, the latter of which closed out in 2017. They are beginning to start an equity raise round and have a mix of both social impact investors and traditional investors in their current investor pool.
Pitching each investor based on their unique preferences and needs has been one of the most difficult things Patrick has had to learn as an entrepreneur. Part of this challenge was using the language of business models to pitch investors, clarifying expectations around what social impact means to different investors and communicating what indicators (data points) are realistic to evaluate Seal The Seasons’ performance given their stage of growth.