Co-founders of Back to the Roots standing with a product display inside a store.
Back to the Roots is tapping the growing market of consumers who are looking to plant and grow their own food. — Back to the Roots

Why it matters:

  • Interest in gardening boomed during the pandemic, with millennials and younger Americans as the fastest growing piece of the gardening demographic.
  • Back to the Roots expects to do more than $100 million in retail sales this year.
  • The growing consumer demand for organic and sustainable gardening products is reflected in the brand’s partnerships with the country’s largest retailers.

Back to the Roots Co-founders Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez created a multimillion-dollar brand by selling kits for indoor herb, vegetable, and mushroom gardens.

Now, the Co-founders and Co-CEOs of the organic gardening brand have set their sights on a bigger space – America’s backyard.

The company is leaning into outdoor gardening this year to grow its brand.

Back to the Roots began developing outdoor gardening supplies and kits two years ago. This year it is rolling out its full outdoor line with national retail partners including Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, and Target.

The company also is looking to grow future generations of gardeners with creative forms of outreach, including a Fortnite Back to the Roots video game, in partnership with Target.

“This year is a really big milestone for us,” Arora told CO—. Not only is the expanded line available nationwide in the country’s biggest lawn and garden retailers, but Back to the Roots is projected to do over $100 million in retail sales this year.

Tapping into the ‘mass acceleration’ of millennial gardeners post-COVID

“It still feels like we’re just scratching the surface [of the potential market],” Arora said.

“The demographics are shifting so fast,” he said. “The gardening category’s been pretty stagnant for decades and all of a sudden, with COVID, there was this mass acceleration of millennials and younger people getting into the category.”

More and more millennials also are becoming homeowners, he said, and are ready to expand their gardening efforts beyond windowsill gardens to backyard vegetable beds.

This new generation of home gardeners has a new focus, Arora said. “They want to grow food, not grass,” he said.

The 2023 National Gardening Survey by the National Gardening Association found that one-third of Americans plan to increase their gardening spending this year, particularly on food gardening. Participation in gardening activities hit a five-year high in 2022, with 80% of households participating, according to the association.

Estimates of the market size of the gardening space vary, but researchers agree it is growing rapidly. The global lawn and garden consumables market – which includes seeds, soils, and other products sold by Back to the Roots — is forecast to reach close to $22 billion by 2030, up 35% over 2021, according to a report by Custom Market Insights.

[Read: 3 Big Picture Trends Set to Drive Business in 2023]

The 2023 National Gardening Survey by the National Gardening Association found that one-third of Americans plan to increase their gardening spending this year, particularly on food gardening.

From selling at local farmers markets to the shelves of Whole Foods and Home Depot

Back to the Roots was born in Berkeley, California, in 2009, when Arora and Velez, then students at the University of California, Berkeley, heard a professor, in a discussion about sustainability, mention how it was possible to grow gourmet mushrooms on old coffee grounds.

They tried it, and produced a first batch that impressed the chefs at Berkeley’s famous restaurant Chez Panisse, as well as the produce buyer at the local Whole Foods store.

They set out to create an urban farm and started selling mushrooms at farmers markets and to local restaurants and grocery stores.

But they soon realized they liked showing school groups and visitors to their farm how to grow mushrooms much more than they liked being farmers. They began selling mushroom kits online and in stores. Within a few years, they stopped being farmers to concentrate full time on selling indoor garden kits for mushrooms, herbs, and vegetables.

[Read: Startups Help Restaurant Takeout Businesses Go Green With Returnable Food Containers]

‘We were thinking, [physical] retail’s not going away – especially in the gardening category’

Back to the Roots made a bet early on to invest in building an in-person, in-store sales channel, as well as online sales. “We knew we wanted to be an omni brand,” Arora said. “We were thinking retail’s not going away – especially in the gardening category,” he said.

A big part of the brand’s strategy is to be accessible to all kinds of consumers – both in where the products are sold and how they are priced, Arora said.

Its peat-free soils, for example, are 100% organic and 100% made in the U.S., but are also among the least expensive on certain retail shelves.

“That’s our focus,” Arora said. “How do we make organics accessible – not just with price points, but also distribution,” by being in stores like Walmart, Target, or Home Depot, where millions of Americans are shopping?” he said

Building those retail partners, however, took time.

“When we started off, we were doing thousands of demos,” Arora said. “We just built this brand one demo at a time, one store at a time,” he said.

“Retail is tough,” Arora said. “You have limited shelf space.” Brands, he said, must first convince retailers to give them some of that space, and then must justify keeping that space year after year through sales growth, he said.

“It’s a tough path, but the plus of it is you get to reach millions of people walking through these retailers, and you can expose your brand to so many people,” he said.

 Product image of bags of potting mix and growing kits from Back to the Roots.
According to its founders, a big part of Back to the Roots' strategy is to be accessible to all kinds of consumers, both in where the products are sold and how they are priced. — Back to the Roots

‘We want to build the gardening brand for new generations’

Arora’s advice for brands wanting to break into big retail chains is, “Be sure you can clearly articulate your why: Why do you exist, and therefore, why does this retail partner need to carry you?” he said.

For Back to the Roots, the why is offering earth-friendly, peat-free soils that protect the precious resource of peatlands (a type of wetland), and organic seeds sourced from U.S. farmers. But a larger why, Arora said, is connecting new generations of gardeners back to their food, and back to their land.

“We want to build the gardening brand for new generations,” he said.

While Back to the Roots doesn’t disclose its finances, it has achieved profitability. “We want to build a brand that outlives us, and to do that you have to be profitable,” Arora said.

“We’re 10-plus years in, but at the same time it feels like it’s just our warmup lap,” he said. “We’ve built an amazing foundation, and it feels like along the way the market has kind of caught up, and the market is looking for a brand like Back to the Roots. So we see a lot of growth and scale ahead.”

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