Kuli Kuli Moringa Green Energy shots hit the shelves at Whole Foods nationwide in January and offer shoppers a combination of vitamin- and protein-rich moringa leaves with green tea and fruit flavors to create a shelf stable, natural energy-booster that is a “cross between a green smoothie and a cup of coffee,” said the startup’s founder and CEO Lisa Curtis.
She explained the shots stand apart from competitors in the crowded energy shot category because they are all-natural, yet shelf stable. Most energy shots have artificial and synthetic ingredients, which consumers increasingly consider “chemicals” and which they do not want in their bodies. Of those that are natural, many must be refrigerated, she added.
Because the shots are natural, consumers do not have to feel guilty consuming them – another challenge that faces conventional energy shots and drinks, Curtis said.
“A lot of people who drink energy drinks feel guilty about it. They says they buy energy drinks sometimes, but only when their wife isn’t looking … or not in front of their friends,” Curtis said.
“They can feel good about drinking the Green Energy Shots though because they boost your energy and provide a positive impact on your body,” with a half cup of leafy greens that are packed with protein, calcium, iron and vitamins A and B, she said.
Another challenge the shots address are the general dislike of how energy drinks and shots taste, Curtis said. Many shots taste medicinal and moringa tastes intensely grassy. But Curtis says her shots have modern and classic flavors that consumers like, including: Ginger Lemon, Coconut Lime and Raspberry.
Helping to develop economies
The launch expands Kuli Kuli’s portfolio beyond its existing offerings of Moringa Super Food Bars and Pure Moringa Powder, both of which Curtis launched as a way to create access to and demand for moringa and, as an extension, to provide fair-paying jobs to women in West Africa who harvest the leaves.
Curtis discovered the ingredient while she was a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa and realized its potential not only to boost the health of Americans but the local economy for villagers in West Africa. So she created Kuli Kuli as a way to share the nutritional value of the ingredient and help organize co-ops to harvest the ingredient. Kuli Kuli also donates 10% of sales to the communities to improve local nutrition through a community in need.
Curtis hopes now to do for Haiti, what Kuli Kuli did for those West African villages.
Curtis explained that the moringa used to create the energy shots comes from a sustainable supply chain from Haiti that Kuli Kuli helped create along with the Clinton Foundation and the Smallholder Farmers Alliance. The idea was to provide a steady demand for the ingredient in order to provide stable income to a country that still struggles with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in 2010, Curtis said.
Through the partnership and with help from the Timerland Foundation, 5 million moringa trees will be planted in Haiti, the harvest of which Kuli Kuli guaranteed to purchase, Curtis said.
In addition to receiving funding from the Clinton Foundation and Open Hands Initiative to help pay for the supply, Kuli Kuli secured part of the $1 million it raised from two crowdfunding campaigns and angel investors, Curtis said.
Among the investors supporting the company are Brad Feld of the Foundry Group; Derek Proudian, a former venture capitalist and investor in Elon Musk’s first company; Mary Waldner of Mary’s Gone Crackers and the Pipeline Fellowship Angels. Celebrity supporters include Rainn Wilson, Edward Norton and Chef Jose Andres who co-hosted a related recipe competition on Instagram.
Lessons learned from fundraising
Reflecting on the fundraising process, Curtis recommends caused-based startups reach out for funding and support from foundations with programs that align with their social missions.
“Foundations can be amazing partners for companies that have a strong social mission” because not only can they provide grants, but they can magnify the company’s message and help create a network of supporters, she said.
She also cautions against doing two back-to-back crowdfunding campaigns like she did because it can tap out supporters.