Towson Lacrosse alumni Matt and Brian Vetter, along with brother Greg, have turned a bet with their mom into a winning lineup of dressings, ketchup, mustard, garlic spread, marinades and now mayonnaise that is drawing national attention from grocers, hotel chains and even reality television producers.
Tessemae’s was named after Vetter family matriarch Theresa because she developed an olive-oil-based dressing to encourage her children to eat vegetables. In 2009, a grown-up Greg bet his mother that if he could get Whole Foods to carry her dressing, she would have to go into business with him. Six years later, Tessemae’s products are carried by Whole Foods, Safeway, Costco, Kroger, The Fresh Market, Weis Markets, Wegmans, as well as regional grocers Gelson’s in Southern California and H-E-B Grocery Stores and Brookshire’s Food & Pharmacy in Texas. In 2014, the company made $25 million in sales.
The Vetters say their products are striking a chord with consumers moving toward healthier diets and seeking “all-natural” products. The salad dressings do not use thickening agents and are gluten-free.
“We are at a perfect time with the market in general,” Greg Vetter said. “Everyone is looking for really good, real food. And that’s such a rare thing right now. We’re seeing there’s a shift to people starting to care about what’s in their products.”
Courtyard by Marriott uses Tessemae’s “Classic French” dressing on its hummus plate, and the Vetters are looking to expand to Chipotle Mexican Grill, Chick-fil-A, and institutions such as airports, universities and cafeterias — even M&T Bank Stadium, home to the Baltimore Ravens.
Tessemae’s, with its headquarters and a production plant in Essex, Maryland, now employs about 150 full- and part-time workers, but also gets help from the extended family. The company’s story of trying to change the food industry through healthy eating as a family business has attracted the interest of TV producers from several networks. Filming a pilot could begin as soon as fall 2015.