How did your collaboration with Ayesha Curry come about?
Velez: We’re both based in Oakland and we share such similar philosophies when it comes to bringing healthier food to kids. As soon as we got together, we immediately envisioned this product that we could develop together, and that’s how we created the Ayesha Kitchen Herb Garden. We recently went to a community center in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her and Steph Curry—they made investments to beautify the whole space and build a brand-new basketball court and a new state-of-the-art kitchen. We brought hundreds of our kits to donate to the kids. Obviously, it was way cooler to have [Steph and Ayesha] give away the kits. The kids were definitely more likely to get excited and talk about it with the teachers and get them on board.
We also did a collaboration with Fall Out Boy. Fall Out Boy reached out to us and we ended up meeting. Like the Ayesha situation, we came to a similar kind of idea of “Hey, we love what you guys do. We’re from Chicago. Can we do something special here?” And to get the word out, we donated 20,000 of our gardening kits. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but 20,000 ended up being 10 percent of all elementary school kids in Chicago.
So how do you forge connections with companies, brands and people outside of the food and education space?
Velez: What’s been fun is that much of what happened has been really natural.
Last year, we teamed up with Carmelo Anthony because of his kid. We recently just displaced Kellogg’s at New York public schools. Our cereal has a fourth of the sugar that Kellogg’s has. In a blind taste test, kids chose our cereal over theirs. Our cereal is now feeding 1.1 million public school kids.
That was the first time in the United States that an organic cereal had launched in any public school district, let alone the largest one in the country, and that connection was through Carmelo’s son. He tried it and loved it. We didn’tknow this at first, but Melo is a huge cereal fan, and we ended up sitting down with them. It’s the little things like that where the relationship happens organically. We don’t have a department that focuses on forging these relationships, and I think that’s the beauty in it. People have reached out to Back to the Roots just because theybelieve, or want to believe, in the same thing we believe in.
Are U.S. consumers your primary target, or do you have aspirations of taking Back to the Roots globally?
Velez: Absolutely. We want to see every kid, whether they’re American or not, be more connected to food and, ultimately, be really conscious and serious about where their food comes from. From a mission standpoint, we want this to be something that eventually goes worldwide. Luckily, we’ve had some amazing retail partners that believe in the same crazy idea we have, that an indoor gardening category needs to exist. Home Depot six years ago wasn’t talking about organics or non-GMOs. We were the first to bring it to the gardening category. Now there are indoor gardening categories in every major home improvement store and national retailer.