The round, announced today, was led by Kuli Kuli’s previous investor Kellogg Company’s venture capital fund eighteen94 capital and Griffith Foods, which is a global product development company that plans to include moringa in its range of ingredient offerings for the company’s foodservice customers, processors, retailers and distributors across 30 countries, according to Kuli Kuli.
Other key investors include InvestEco, S2G Ventures, Village Capital, and women investment groups including Astia Angels and Next Wave Impact.
To date, Kuli Kuli has focused primarily on building a strong portfolio of branded CPG products featuring moringa sold in 7,000 retail stores as a way to introduce the superfood ingredient to Americans and create a stable economy for farmers, but the founder Lisa Curtis told FoodNavigator-USA that the time has come to expand the business into the ingredient supply space.
“We have seen increased demand from manufacturers who are looking for high-nutrition ingredients from sustainable, transparent supply chains and have had dozens of manufacturers reach out to us asking if we could supply them with our high-quality Organic Pure Moringa,” Curtis said. “As a trusted retail brand, Kuli Kuli believes that we are in a prime position to supply other manufacturers with high-quality moringa that benefits small farmers around the world.”
As demand for the ingredient has increased, so too has the competition with new suppliers entering the market. But Curtis believes that Kuli Kuli can offer a higher quality product than they can.
“Much of the moringa on the commodity market struggles with issues of heavy metals, high aerobic plate counts and organic fraud,” she said.
But she explained that Kuli Kuli’s supply is different because the company’s sourcing model enables it to produce a higher quality of moringa.
“Moringa is an incredibly easy plant to grow, but as a low-acid plant that is raw processed, it is a very difficult plant to process correctly,” she said. “Kuli Kuli has spent the past five years building us a network of trusted moringa farmers who follow our proprietary processing methods to ensure that we consistently produce the highest quality moringa powder.”
In particular, she noted, there are three things to look for when comparing moringa quality: “a clean Certificate of Analysis with low aerobic plate count and no traces of e coli or other nasty bacteria, heavy metals from industrial contaminants and organic integrity.”
Kuli Kuli is able to meet these standards because it sources directly from small farmers in rural areas, she added.
Kuli Kuli will showcase moringa’s potential at Expo West
To support the new partnership with its series B investors, Curtis said that Griffith’s VP of culinary will join Kuli Kuli at its booth (#5173) at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim next week to show off the versatility of moringa in a variety of dishes, including moringa lattes in the morning, moringa falafels, dips and sauces at lunch and moringa margaritas and moringa mushroom rice bites during a happy hour on Friday March 8.
“As a product development company, Griffith is well equipped to be able to help manufacturers create the perfect moringa products for their target consumers,” said Curtis, adding that Kuli Kuli has a new warehouse “fully stocked with moringa for ingredients sales and so we are ready for orders!”
The move into the ingredient and foodservice space comes after Kuli Kuli has spent years developing a wide portfolio of CPGs featuring moringa as a key ingredient and working closely with farmers to develop a supply chain that is strong enough to not only support the company’s expanding product distribution but also its new foray into being an ingredient supplier.
CPGs will still account for most of Kuli Kuli’s business
Even as Kuli Kuli expands into new territory with its ingredients business, it will continue to invest in its CPG business of Moringa Energy Bars, Smoothie Mixes, Shots and Powders, said Curtis.
“We believe that branded CPG will continue to be the majority of our business. However, we think that selling moringa as an ingredient, particularly as a branded ingredient to like-minded manufacturers, will benefit our retail side as well,” Curtis said.
For example, she pointed to the way that matcha and turmeric have grown from a tea and spice respectively into ingredients that are now used in everything from bars to beverages to cereal.
“Given the growth rate of moringa, I think we will soon catch up,” Curtis said.
Indeed, she noted, moringa is the fastest growing green supplement in the category and is outselling matcha and catching up to spirulina and wheatgrass.
According to Nielsen data shared by Kuli Kuli, moringa has achieved a 3% penetration in US households with Kuli Kuli capturing more than half of the US retail moringa market. In addition, the company notes, the NEXT trend database shows moringa grew at 460% between 2014 and 2017.