CHAPEL HILL – Seal the Seasons continues to grow its business footprint, teaming up with farmers to take fresh produce into much of the U.S.

The Chapel Hill startup recently announced plans to expand their product line of locally grown produce to consumers in nearby communities to four new regions, expanding from the Carolinas to the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and Pacific Southwest in the coming months. Seal the Seasons works to “bring local family farm produce–delicious blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and broccoli–to a frozen aisle near you.” It flash-freezes the produce.

Seal the Seasons

To fuel this expansion, Seal the Seasons is filing their Series A fundraiser with the intention of raising $3.5 million. Some $1.8 million has already committed, said co-founder and CEO Patrick Mateer in an interview.

“We’re very confident we’ll raise the remainder,” said Mateer, who plans to seek funding for the three-year-old company from investment partners that fit our desired ratio of mission and business model.

As a certified benefit corporation, Seal the Seasons operates with an emphasis on its social mission, which is to make local food more accessible to communities. In doing so, said Mateer, the company is already creating meaningful economic impact for family-owned farms within the Carolinas.

Driving economic impact for family farmers

“All family farmers are important for our economy,” said Mateer, “and they are all facing challenges regardless if they’re a five-acre farm or a 50-acre farm.”

The company’s business model is based on a collaborative approach to sourcing locally-grown foods, like strawberries and blueberries grown in North Carolina or peaches grown in South Carolina, that relies on partnering with family farmers. By procuring produce from a network of suppliers, the company can provide a relatively predictable income stream to family farmers at a price negotiated together, and bring their produce to market at scale and at a price point that makes sense for consumers, said Mateer. Typically, that price point is just a dollar more per package than generic grocery store brands, and a dollar less than organics.

“It was really important that there was no doubt in our consumer’s minds about who we are and what we stand for,” said Mateer. “We want to create a better food system and a better business model for our whole company.”

The growing company

Mateer, one of Forbes’ 2018 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, started thinking about the food economy early. As a student at Chapel Hill High School, he restarted the school garden, operated through the Green Tigers environmental club, and was elected by his peers to the school improvement team.

Mateer received a spot in the prestigious Bonner Leadership Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, working for three years as the lead volunteer coordinator at Farmer Foodshare.

Through this work, he operated the organization’s outreach at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market and trained more than 40 volunteers. The work included gathering local food and donations at the market and distributing them to lower-income families in the community.

In this work, Mateer observed that many of the farmers that brought produce to the market were unable to completely sell their stock, meaning that much of it would otherwise go to waste. And that was just the produce that made it to a market—many other crops weren’t even making the journey.

“After that project, I really wanted to take action,” said Mateer. The company launched in 2015, and products first made it to market in 2016. Since then, the team has expanded to eight full-time and two-part-time staff based in Chapel Hill, received its benefit corporation certification, and secured placement in more than 900 grocery stores, co-op markets, and supermarkets.

In the process, the company received support from a variety of funding sources, including a $50,000 loan and support in securing office space as the company expanded from Orange County, roughly $100,000 in peer-to-peer loans furnished through Slow Money NC, and a $150,000 loan from Self-Help Credit Union.

With the initial funding, Mateer expects to begin to scale. Bringing their products to new markets and expanding their sourcing model to new regions is a central strategy for the organization to reach its long-term mission and reach its business potential.

“The original goal of our company is to make local food available, and make a better food system that consumers can buy into,” said Mateer. “We’ve now accomplished that in North Carolina.”