Local & State

Seal the Seasons now top US locally grown food brand

Started by Carolina students in 2015, the flash frozen produce company creates new markets for family farmers.

Two men and two women posing next to products wearing
In 2023, Seal the Seasons’ grocery story customer count and dollar sales both grew by approximately 20 percent year-over-year. (Submitted photo)

Patrick Mateer’s experience working with a food waste diversion program at the Carrboro Farmers Market as a student at Carolina inspired the concept for Seal the Seasons, a flash frozen produce company. Nearly a decade after the 2015 launch of the Carolina student-led startup, Seal the Seasons is the No. 1 locally grown food brand in the U.S.

“Farmers would have extra bins of tomatoes or strawberries left over, and they needed a place for that produce to go because it wouldn’t last until next Saturday’s market,” said Mateer, co-founder and CEO. “We saw an opportunity to preserve that extra crop by freezing it and giving consumers access to it year-round rather than just the four-week strawberry season. The company was a way to facilitate that win-win for farmers and consumers, and it evolved into so much more.”

Today, Seal the Seasons distributes its products to 6,000 retail locations across 36 states. In 2023, its grocery story customer count and dollar sales both grew by approximately 20%. The company sources produce and operates across six U.S. regions (Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Pacific Southwest and Southeast).

“Our distribution strategy is to be locally grown, locally frozen, locally sold,” Mateer said. “We’re making locally grown food easy for our grocery store partners to merchandise. And for end consumers, we’re making a higher quality, locally grown product available that has a story to it, has a lower carbon footprint and tastes better than the other ‘cardboardy’ frozen food on the shelf.”

The idea for Seal the Seasons began in a public health entrepreneurship class taught by professor Alice Ammerman, director of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Inspired by a group project on food waste and access, Daniella Uslan, a fellow at the center, teamed up with Carolina graduate student Will Chapman and undergraduates Mateer and Alex Piasecki to turn the concept into a company.

Initial funding came from the Carolina Challenge at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and other competitions, and the startup’s first offices were in the CUBE accelerator on campus, followed by Launch Chapel Hill downtown.

‘Hub farms’ that flash freeze

Seal the Seasons uses flash freezing technology — a frigid blast of air delivered to fruit and vegetables as they travel down a slow-moving conveyer belt — that freezes individual pieces of produce within 24 hours of being harvested.

As the business expanded, the team made a strategic shift from a central freezing location to flash-freezing facilities set up on hub farms. “The farms do all the growing and freezing, and we can focus all of our time on selling, distribution and marketing,” Mateer said.

Seal the Seasons works with a network of local farmers across the country to help them diversify sales. “We’re creating a larger market for local farmers by opening the frozen channel for them,” said Piasecki, co-founder and chief operating officer.

For small farmers, Seal the Seasons is a diversified sales channel or an option for when the unexpected occurs, much like an insurance policy. “If Saturday farmers markets are big for them, they still have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to think about,” said Piasecki. “Or if there is severe weather, the fruit won’t last very long, so farmers want to capture whatever they can. For farmers who almost look at us as a type of crop insurance, we’re flexible, transparent and consistent — and they can rely on us to pay a fair price.”

Read more about Seal the Seasons.