Do-it-yourself food company focuses on social media

Back to the Roots, which sells kits for people to grow their own pearl oyster mushrooms, does almost all its promotion online.

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With most stories you hear about college students selling mushrooms, you’d probably also expect an arrest report.

Not so with the saga of Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez of Back to the Roots, which sells kits so people can grow pearl oyster mushrooms at home. The company started two-and-a-half years ago as a class project at the University of California at Berkeley. Now the kits are available online, at 300 Whole Foods stores and at sustainable food stores all over the country.

A big part of the company’s booming growth lies in its use of social media, says Arora. “As long as we can continue to have people share our content, we can build on that network effect,” he says.

A fresh start

Arora and Velez came together in spring 2009 when the two seniors took an interest in something their business ethics professor said about being able to grow mushrooms in coffee grounds. Over spring break, they planted 10 test buckets to see if the theory could work.

Of the 10 buckets, nine ended up contaminated and gross, but one was full of big, pretty oyster mushrooms. Unsure whether the mushrooms were safe to eat, the duo took them to a local restaurant, where a chef gave them the thumbs-up.

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