In tandem with the launch of the Food+Tech Job Board, we are thrilled to launch the Food Startup Growth Series. This series will give you an inside look at the strategies, challenges and best practices of fast-growing food startups.
Meet Patrick Mateer and Alex Piasecki, CEO and CFO respectively of Seal the Seasons, a North Carolina-based startup that believes our food system should provide health and wealth for all. Seal the Seasons partners with local farms to freeze, market and distribute the best quality fruits and vegetables. The produce is then sold at stores providing consumers with high-quality sustainable produce available year-round. Seal the Seasons provides farmers with a living wage and improves access to nutritious food. It also donates 20 percent of its profits to organizations working to end hunger.
While the company now operates only in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia, the short-term goal is to expand to New England and New York with the expectation that they will eventually scale local models across the country. Seal the Seasons is in the process of hiring key marketing and sales positions over the next 12 months to drive growth and deliver local produce to consumers beyond North Carolina. In 2016, Seal the Seasons closed an undisclosed seed round and grew from selling produce in seven local stores to over 500 across the state. It was also recently accepted into the FoodFutureCo accelerator program.
I spoke with Patrick and Alex about their strategy for scaling-up, their company culture, and why they think it’s an exciting time to be part of the food innovation market.
Patrick Mateer & Alex Piasecki: Seal the Seasons is operating on all cylinders during the growing and harvest season. We’re currently focused on three areas to scale our business. Our operations team is focused on working with our co-packing partners and sourcing our delicious berries to be frozen. Our strategic team is working with the sales team to pitch new accounts and expand our number of doors and facings. Finally, our marketing team is deep in a re-brand. We’re redesigning our packaging to better match our company, story and mission to our visual identity.
PM & AP: We have a colossal mission: to make local produce available year-round for everyone. We take “everyone” seriously–which requires an ambitious but focused geographic growth plan to scale Seal the Seasons local model across the country. Our goal for the next 12-24 months is to make local produce available outside of North Carolina. We’re launching Georgia Grown and Florida Grown local products across the Southeast this summer. Be on the lookout for Seal the Seasons to come to a new store near you!
PM & AP: Seal the Seasons is a family that shares a passion for local food and transparent supply chains. Our company culture is to say yes, tell it how it is, and collaborate together to take action. We keep it real in the office and always keep the final objective in sight while supporting each other in our pursuit of company milestones. We like to ask questions of each other to test basic assumptions and we’re always thinking about redundancy.
PM & AP: Seal the Seasons has a no bulls#*t attitude, but we love to have fun. We preserve our culture by living it and by keeping each other honest and accountable. New employees are often surprised about how we share problems throughout the team and practice a higher level of internal transparency than most early-stage businesses. Our teammates are our biggest motivators and the most important part of our support network. To unwind, we love to do team lunches and after-work drinks to stay up to date on each other’s lives, ranging from new family additions (congrats Bryan!) and to our founder’s love life.
PM & AP: As a first-time entrepreneur, I work with a lot of mentors and advisers. We have incredible gratitude for their time and support, but when starting a business, we initially found processing some of their passionate viewpoints to be conflicting. Mentor whiplash can be challenging to deal with. I’ve learned to trust my instinct and always come back to our core brand mission when mentors give difficult or conflicting advice. Mentors are critical, but entrepreneurs must remember success comes from innovation and risk-taking, not from following the traditional path.
PM & AP: When you’re doing something no one has ever done before, you have to be creative and comfortable with the risk to execute effectively. As a startup, working like MacGyver is key. Anyone that works at Seal the Seasons can add bootstrapping/creativity, risk-taking and self-management to their resume. We are the opposite of micromanagers and require people that can own their objectives, postulate solutions, then implement and execute. Our team works with limited resources and we expect focused results.
PM & AP: We will be hiring several marketing and sales positions over the next twelve months. Watch Food + Tech Job Board to see all our positions as they open! These positions will be with retail grocers, foodservice, data analytics, social marketing, and PR/field marketing. Sales and marketing drive growth; we’ll be looking for hires that are at the top of their sector and have success working at scale.
PM & AP: Beyond onboarding new employees to our systems and company HR policies, we train our employees on a project-by-project basis to get them to work quickly. We only hire employees out of the industry or with transferable skills so you should feel at home in week one. Local food should be a passion before you apply.
PM & AP: Why are you coming to work at a risky startup where payroll isn’t guaranteed, when you could have a higher paying job with greater security and more benefits at an established company?
PM & AP: Food is a rapidly changing environment in the 21st century. Consumers are shopping differently, spending over $12 billion in local farmers markets, forcing conventional grocers to transform the physical layout of stores and emphasize the “farm-to-table” movement. Legacy brands are struggling to react and stay relevant; launching new products like pumpkin spice Cheerios isn’t going to solve the modern consumer’s needs.
Innovation in grocery is especially relevant in the frozen aisle. Legacy CPG has left significant whitespace in the category, allowing brands like Yasso, Luvo, or Evol to capture market share. The journey of Seal the Seasons experience is no different. Our localized supply chain business model gives us a distinct advantage over the rest of the category, allowing us to deliver new consumer benefits at a competitive price. Our team loves to see new buyer reaction to our product and receive consumer emails about their positive product experience. The most exciting part of our job is working with all the farmers and the consumers that make it possible for local food to nourish its local community.