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Founders Alejandro Velez (L) and Nikhil Arora (R) want to "reconnect consumers" with where their food comes from. Photo credit: Back To The Roots

Pushing for US & Middle East to eat organic, Saudi prince joins Back To The Roots round

November 4, 2020

KBW Ventures, the early-stage investment firm run by Saudi Arabian prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, has joined an investment round into Oakland, California’s organic gardening company Back to the Roots.

The round, of undisclosed size, was co-led by agrifoodtech specialists S2G Ventures and Acre Venture Partners.

Also investing were Once Upon a Farm CEO John Foraker and ICA Fund Good Jobs.

“Converting clicks to customers is what everyone is trying to do,” Prince Khaled told AFN. “I was a customer — in fact I had been posting about Back To The Roots grow kits on Instagram — and I was then converted into an investor.”

Founded in 2009 by Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora, Back to the Roots sells a line of small-space gardening kits for things like microgreens and mushrooms, live plants, raised beds, aquaponic systems, and seeds. The startup uses major US retailers for distribution, including Walmart, Costco, and Target.

“There’s an abundance of need for what [Back To The Roots does], they have impressive year-on-year growth, and there are two powerhouse entrepreneurs — Nikhil and Alejandro — running the business,” Prince Khaled said.

“As someone who wants to positively impact the food chain and give people healthy options, I found that Back To The Roots was an optimal fit for the KBW Ventures portfolio.”

Moreover, the startup’s latest foray into the seed packet category “makes it that much more accessible, especially as Amazon is accepting US-origin only seeds,” he added.

Back to the Roots’ claims that its seed line is the first 100% US-grown retail seed packet program domestically – a designation that positions it well following Amazon’s ban on the sale of foreign seeds in the country earlier this year. Its spring 2020 pilot seed program included 92 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, all of which are organic and non-GMO.

Arora and Velez believe their company’s thinking fits with the growing trend of consumers wanting to feel more connected to where their food comes from.

“As we expand our packet seed program, we’re also excited to help shine a light on the incredible American farmers growing our seeds and dedicating themselves to taking care of the land,” Velez said in a statement. “The incredible momentum of [the] program has proven that consumers want transparency in where their seeds are coming from.”

These sorts of organic produce plays could be a good fit in regions like the Middle East too, Prince Khaled believes.

“There is a big market in the Gulf countries, especially Saudi and the UAE, for organic produce,” he said. “There’s an increasing number of local grow ops using traditional methods, and there’s the vertical farming and more tech-driven organic growers as well – but that’s still nascent here. There has also, since the pandemic, been a surge in the ‘buying local’ movement from influential chefs and larger hospitality-oriented businesses like four and five star hotels in Dubai.”

Prince Khaled is carving out a strong name for himself in the agrifoodtech space as a vegan investor par excellence.

KBW Ventures has already placed some stellar bets. Tucked into the portfolio is plant-based protein trailblazer Beyond Meat, along with others focused on plant-derived meat alternatives like Ripple and Rebellyous Foods. Then, there are his team’s bets on cellular ag’s early mover Memphis Meats and human breast milk fortifier Prolacta Bioscience. Others in the mix include cultured pet food developers Bond, animal-free gelatin producer Geltor, and lab-grown seafood maker BlueNalu.

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