You may not know the name now, but Seely Mints is on the verge of becoming a household name. Earlier this month, Mike and Candy Seely reached an agreement with Whole Foods Market to stock Seely Mints peppermint patties in all of its 360 stores nationwide. A select number of stores in the Pacific Northwest also will carry Seely Mint peppermint bark, mint melts and ivory melts.
"I found Mike and his wife, Candy, at a little farmers market in Portland. I tasted their peppermint patties and they were really good," Whole Foods' Denise Breyley said.
Breyley said Seely Mints is a good fit for the Austin, Texas-based natural foods chain because of its "soil-to-end product" story.
Each year, Seely and his employees harvest 450 acres of peppermint and spearmint leaves. Oil from the leaves is distilled and then mixed with a secret recipe that contains fair-trade cocoa, organic sugar and agave to create their patties, melts, tea leaves and candy canes. All of the products are made, packaged and boxed right at the farm to preserve freshness and quality. The end result, says Mike Seely, is a product that's far superior to mass-produced competitors.
"We're not selling a piece of candy. It's an experience," said Candy Seely.
"To have a peppermint patty made with the real essential peppermint oil, the flavor is unlike any peppermint patty you've tasted," Breyley said
Neither Mike, who is a third-generation mint farmer, nor Candy ever dreamed of being in the candy business. After graduating from college in 1980, Mike Seely bought 80 acres to start his own mint farm. At the time, mint oil was commonly used in toothpaste, chewing gum, mouthwash, pharmaceuticals and even some perfumes. But in 2007, manufacturers of those items began moving away from using real mint oil in favor of less expensive synthetic flavoring.
"Here they are growing a great crop and the demand for it is shrinking because more and more companies, in the interest of cost cutting, are using synthetic flavoring. Part of what I'm interested in and Whole Foods is interested in is supporting agriculture," Breyley said.
In 2011, at the suggestion of a colleague, the Seelys decided to head down to the Portland Farmers Market to see if they could sell some of that year's harvest.
"We got tired of answering the same question, 'What do you do with the mint oil?' so I made some patties so people could get ideas," said Candy Seely.
Mike Seely said taste-testers really liked the idea of making peppermint candies with the oil, they just didn't want to do it themselves. "They just wanted to buy the patties we made," he said.
The rest, as they say, is history.
After Breyley discovered the business, Seely Mints patties were introduced in a small number of Whole Foods stores in the Pacific Northwest and were a big hit. But before Whole Foods was ready to take them nationwide, they requested some changes - like eliminating corn syrup - the Seelys were happy to make. The Seelys also began using organic sugar and agave for the Whole Foods' products.