Growing Roots, Unilever
Growing Roots will debut with four organic, gluten-free, plant-based snacks made with flax, chia and sesame seeds.

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — The seeds of Unilever’s new snack brand were planted two years ago, when the company partnered with the city of New York to support urban farming in underserved communities. At Natural Products Expo West this week, Unilever plans to unveil a product line to help scale the effort nationwide.

Growing Roots will debut with four organic, gluten-free, plant-based snacks made with flax, chia and sesame seeds. Flavors include coconut curry, pineapple coconut rum, maple bourbon and cocoa chipotle. The seeds are symbolic of the company’s efforts to grow urban farming, said Ryu Yokoi, marketing director of Foods at Unilever.

“We think that most good things start with seeds, and we thought it was a nice metaphor for the work we’re doing in the communities,” Mr. Yokoi told Food Business News.

Each purchase of a Growing Roots product supports the creation of urban farms, increasing access to fresh foods in densely populated neighborhoods while educating the community about healthy eating and how food is grown, Mr. Yokoi said.

“We’re putting urban farms in public housing communities and seeing amazing results,” he said. “Our chefs actually go into the communities and give cooking lessons to help people utilize the fresh stuff coming out of the farms.”

While many packaged food companies as large as Unilever are likely to acquire or invest in a mission-based brand like Growing Roots, developing such a business from within the corporation is relatively rare.

“Certainly, we have also been in the acquisition game and brought in brands recently to our portfolio” with a mission-driven focus, Mr. Yokoi noted. However, he said, this particular cause is “really personal” for Unilever, which has U.S. headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

“The beautiful thing with Growing Roots is those New York City farms are right near us, and we’ve had so many people from the office get to spend time and feel the impacts they’re having,” he said. “It’s really powerful.”

The products are slated to hit shelves in ShopRite stores in New York in the coming weeks, “but we will be expanding quickly throughout the year,” Mr. Yokoi said.

The brand may eventually extend into other product categories, too, while staying true to its organic, plant-based roots.

“We started with the idea of ‘what could we do with seeds?’” Mr. Yokoi said. “We tested a lot of different things we could do in that space and came up with a few snacks that we thought were really delicious…

“We have a lot of ideas for places we want to take the brand.”