Expo East Video: Back to the Roots Reaches for the Center Store

Carol Ortenberg

Center store food and beverage brands are clamoring to figure out how to take the “glamour” of perishable departments and bring it into center aisles. In a 2012 New York Times story, Sharon A. Lessard, chief designer at Supervalu, told the paper, “…The perimeter is the fashion side of the grocery business.”

Many companies are trying to achieve this by launching perishable line extensions (example: Fiber One’s cottage cheese) or by acquiring perishable lines (ex: Campbell’s purchase of Bolthouse).

Back to the Roots, on the other hand, plans to flip the relationship on its head. Founded by millennials Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez, the company started by selling culinary mushroom growing kits, then transitioned to aquaponic kits that could grow herbs and greens (both of which were sold in the produce department). Sensing that a radical shift needed to occur, the founders have decided to expand with herb growing kits, and, reaching even farther afield, with cereal and cereal toppings lines — all of which are designed to bring the brand into center aisles.

Arora and Velez say they are fastidious about not compromising on quality, packaging (design-focused but low impact), product benefits and sustainability. And investors are clearly interested as the company just raised $2 million from a long list of angel investors including Annie’s President John Foraker, Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary, Stonyfield Farm founder Gary Hirshberg, Jamba Juice Co. CEO James White, TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie, and Michael Pollan, food activist and author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Back to the Roots’ goal is to “undo food.” In a press release the founders defined this mission as “To return [food] to its simplest, most pure form,” returning it to the kitchen and not the lab, and providing consumers with fresh, home-grown options. Even if they come from a store-bought kit.

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