Oakland-based food startup Back to the Roots (BTTR) today announced the close of its first round of funding, raising $2 million to accelerate its mission to undo food and build the “new Kraft Foods.”
The round was led by Oakland, Calif.-based organization Fund Good Jobs, and brought together a group of high-profile food, technology, and sustainability leaders including Annie’s CEO John Foraker, Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary, Living Social co-founder Aaron Batalion, Urban Sitter CEO Jessica Steel (former EVP of Pandora), former Yahoo! president Brian Steel, Jamba Juice CEO James White, Stonyfield Farms founder Gary Hirshberg, TOMS Shoes Founder Blake Mycoskie and best-selling author Michael Pollan. See the video below, where BTTR's new investors sum up why they felt compelled to invest:
Built on the foundation of its first two products — the Mushroom Farm and Water Garden — BTTR recently expanded its Ready to Grow line with the new Garden in a Can, and launched a Ready to Eat line with Organic Stoneground Flakes cereal, Organic Breakfast Toppers, and Organic Stoneground Crisps.
I recently caught up with Velez and Arora to shed some light on the investment news, as well as the company’s plans for the remainder of 2015.
Congratulations on this round of funding! What do you plan to do with the $2 million?
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BTTR: We are investing in accelerated product development, growing the team, increasing retail distribution and really integrating much more deeply into school systems and curriculum. We've gone from 3 SKUs to 11 SKUs in the past 2 months, and see so much more opportunity to bring this lens of undoing food to many more categories.
What do you mean by "building the new Kraft foods" for millennials?
BTTR: Kraft Foods is the definition of "big food" — a cross-category food brand that's shaped our culture and touched all of our lives in many ways. But we really believe that this new generation is looking for something more — we're not just buying food because of a brand; in fact, it's even beyond natural or organic — it's about radical transparency, simple and delicious ingredients that can be cooked with in a kitchen, and fun & purposeful design. This next generation is looking for food brands where the R&D team isn't engineers in a lab, but our grandparents. Through either our ready-to-grow or ready-to-eat products, we're on a mission to make food personal again — where we know where and how our food is grown.
Who have been some of the key players in helping Back to the Roots get off the ground?
BTTR: They say it takes a village to raise a child — that's equally true for a company. We wouldn't be here without the community around us — including our retailers, customers, and investors. We've been so fortunate to be able to work really closely with our retailers like Whole Foods Market, Costco, Target, Nordstrom, and The Home Depot. and develop products alongside them.
And our investors are way more than that — they've been incredibly close and helpful mentors. For instance, Sean D. Murphy at Fund Good Jobs in Oakland, CA has been crucial in helping us with hiring & culture building; John Foraker at Annie's has been instrumental in guiding us through retail channel management, and Jessica Steel from UrbanSitter/Pandora has been a big help as we think ahead about our business and the coming needs.
Most importantly though — the most key players have been our customers — the ones integrating our cereal into their morning breakfasts, growing mushrooms at home or taking a Water Garden to their kid's school. Without them, all of this would just be an idea — but they show us everyday why this work is so important and we wouldn't be here without that constant inspiration.
What have been some of the greatest challenges you have faced in securing this round of funding/growing the company?
BTTR: A big challenge we're going through right now is the elevation of the brand — with the expansion from ready-to-grow to also ready-to-eat, it's really forced us to better communicate the company vision and how mushrooms, aquaponics, and cereal all tie together! It's clear in our head, but we have to make sure we communicate that well.