Innovative food startup Kuli Kuli has closed a $5 million Series B led by Griffith Foods, a family-owned customized food ingredients business based in Illinois, alongside existing investor eighteen94 capital, Kellogg’s venture capital fund.
InvestEco, S2G Ventures, Authentic Ventures, VilCap Investments and Rocana Venture Partners also invested alongside women-focused groups including Portfolia, Astia Angels, Next Wave Impact and individuals from Golden Seeds.
Kuli Kuli is a manufacturer and distributor of moringa, a superfood that’s become the fastest growing green supplement in the category, surpassing matcha and catching up to spirulina and wheatgrass, according to recent Nielsen data from the last two years. During the same period, the superfood has recorded a 3% penetration in US households.
The Oakland, California-based company will use the funding to launch a new moringa ingredient business while continuing to scale its moringa powder, bars, and shots business. Moringa is a rising superfood among the health food industry, thanks to its nine essential amino acids including high levels of iron, calcium, vitamin A and other beneficial nutrients.
Griffith Foods will be a strategic investor as it plans to include moringa in its range of ingredient offerings for the company’s foodservice customers, processors, retailers and distributors across 30 countries. Similar to the rise of matcha and turmeric, an $11 billion market, Kuli Kuli believes that moringa will soon be found in many products from beverages to desserts.
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“We’ve been on the market for five years, focused on brick and mortar retail, and now with this, we are also going to start selling moringa as an ingredient, so it’s a cool new channel expansion for us,” Lisa Curtis, Kuli Kuli’s Founder & CEO, told AgFunderNews. “Moringa has incredible functional benefits and if we can get it out there in a bigger way and it can start showing up on menus and in products people eat every day, we can raise a lot more awareness and have a bigger impact.”
This Series B brings Kuli Kuli’s total funding to a little more than $10 million. It completed a $4.25 million Series A in 2017 led by eighteen94 capital, and a seed funding round of $1 million in 2016, with the help of crowdfunding campaigns, including a $500k raise on AgFunder.
“Kuli Kuli’s goal is to find partners that will bring not just capital to the table but can also help us grow as a company,” Curtis said. “We are incredibly excited about Griffith being our newest investor and growing with them into selling moringa as an ingredient and leverage their incredible product development skills and their amazing chefs and food appliances to create moringa products that people will love.”
Kuli Kuli owns approximately 60% of the moringa market in the US and offers it in tea, protein bars, energy shots, and powder to use in smoothies. With its new partners, Curtis expects to see some new recipes and different outlets for the ingredient.
“Griffith Foods’ purpose, that ‘we blend care and creativity to nourish the world,’ calls us to find innovative solutions to changing needs,” said Brian Griffith, executive chairman of Griffith Foods. “We also know that Griffith Foods cannot do this alone. Our strategic partnership with Kuli Kuli will help both companies elevate moringa as an exciting new ingredient, and we look forward to bringing this sustainable and healthy offering to the food sector.”
Curtis first started working with moringa as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa, living in a village with no electricity, running water and not a lot of healthy foods. She started eating moringa for herself and discovered that it was incredible nutritious and delicious.
“Very few people in my village were eating it because of a lack of awareness,” she said. “It’s kind of like the kale of 10 years ago. It’s this backyard weed that’s really good for you but no one knows about it.”
When she came back to the US, she started the company and her moringa products are now in about 7,000 stores nation-wide.
“We work with about 1,300 farmers across Africa and South America to grow the highest quality moringa on the market,” Curtis said. “We are very interested in how to better position the functional benefits of moringa and tell that story to customers through new innovations.”
Curtis noted that Kuli Kuli is not that far from profitability and hopes this funding round will take the company to profitability and help them “step on the gas and grow” and be financially self-sustainable.