Marketing Back to the Roots

Written by Hannah Berris
Spring 2018

For my community engagement project for the Food Systems Minor Capstone, I was a Marketing Intern for Back to the Roots (BTTR), a small company based in Oakland, CA that makes organic indoor gardening kits and is on a mission to reconnect people back to the food they eat through making it easy to grow themselves. Although the company is small, they have national distribution at some of the largest retailers including Target, The Home Depot, Whole Foods, and Amazon.

The company was founded by Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora, who met at UC Berkeley when one of their professors mentioned offhand that mushrooms could grow on only spent coffee grounds. After experimenting with the idea, Nik and Alex forewent their corporate job offers and became full-time urban mushroom farmers. They started off just growing mushrooms and selling them to local retailers, but realized that it was such a cool experience to be able to grow something oneself, that they transitioned into making Mushroom Farm kits (like the one I grew myself, pictured) and eventually other indoor gardening kits, as well, like the first at-home aquaponics kit, the Water Garden. It’s an endearing story for a quirky brand, and I wanted to be a part of bringing it to life.

The organization has around 15 employees, and the Marketing team consisted of Nikhil (Co-Founder), Risa (Digital Marketing Lead), and me. Additionally, I worked at Back to the Roots about 20-25 hours per week this spring, so I had the opportunity to become highly integrated into the daily functioning of the team, more so than I would have during this course’s required 7 hours.

A time of change

My time at Back to the Roots was a time of change for the organization. When I arrived, they had just made the decision to close their Ready to Eat line of products (Organic, BioDynamic, Stone-milled, few-ingredient, low sugar breakfast cereals… that’s a mouthful). This decision came as a surprise to me, because I know people who absolutely love their cereals and it seemed like they were highly successful considering they had previously won the bid to be the cereal provider for NYC Public Schools. This decision, I believe arose due to the demands of being a start-up and searching for funding. BTTR was in the process of looking for investors for Series B funding at the time. When looking for investors, it’s not just about selling your brand, but selling your ability to financially perform according to their metrics.

Honing in on indoor gardening and refocusing on the mission behind the brand was an important step in setting the company up for future success. Now, they are able to focus solely on gardening and its ability to help families engage with the food they eat. My time at Back to the Roots was a time of change for the organization. When I arrived, they had just made the decision to close their Ready to Eat line of products (Organic, BioDynamic, Stone-milled, few-ingredient, low sugar breakfast cereals… that’s a mouthful). This decision came as a surprise to me, because I know people who absolutely love their cereals and it seemed like they were highly successful considering they had previously won the bid to be the cereal provider for NYC Public Schools. This decision, I believe arose due to the demands of being a start-up and searching for funding. BTTR was in the process of looking for investors for Series B funding at the time. When looking for investors, it’s not just about selling your brand, but selling your ability to financially perform according to their metrics.

Honing in on indoor gardening and refocusing on the mission behind the brand was an important step in setting the company up for future success. Now, they are able to focus solely on gardening and its ability to help families engage with the food they eat.

My experience

As the Marketing Intern for my small team, I had many responsibilities. I was in charge of creating and curating content for all of Back to the Roots’ social media accounts. When I began the internship, I met with Nikhil to determine the overall social media strategy. Basically, he wanted me to find a consistent way of messaging the values of the brand and to increase their followership on Instagram. I really enjoyed the freedom I was given in making decisions about what to post. In my previous internship experiences, I was definitely not given the reins as fully as I was at BTTR. As of last week, the following increased by over 20% in the two and a half months since I started managing the channel. I also had an opportunity to set up Instagram Highlights to showcase BTTR’s main products as well our community of growers and our history. This was really cool because I had to decide what was important, meaningful, informative and engaging and fit it into a limited space and time.

I was involved in the coordination and preparation for an event we hosted with Ayesha Curry, Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland, Amazon and Whole Foods at the Whole Foods store in Oakland. We put on a Gardening Workshop and Cooking Demo for kids from Oakland Schools.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1jpdyZ7uCS_ENkvJ5awySpyhlX5X4KY7e/view?usp=sharing

This event generated a lot of buzz and had coverage from Amazon’s channels as well as news outlets across the Bay Area. I was in charge of Instagramming the event like crazy and promoting it in the days leading up to the workshop. It was a hectic day that required the whole team to pitch in to make it a reality.

Additionally, I had many other projects including:

  • Applying to industry awards
  • Writing blog posts for the Back to the Roots Blog
  • Setting up new product pages for their website
  • Reporting on Ecommerce sales
  • Creating timelapse videos of their products growing

Wrap Up

Overall, I very much enjoyed being able to engage in the Bay Area food community. I loved working for Back to the Roots and being a part of a startup with such a warm and chill culture. I enjoyed the fun attitude that people came to work with each day and the dedication and hard work people put in to everything they do there. I am thankful for my mentor and manager, Risa, for her trust in me and my abilities. I feel like I truly learned very marketable skills during my internship and am lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in this project.

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