Kuli Kuli, a social startup processing and distributing a plant called moringa grown in Ghana, West Africa, has expanded its distribution network from 30 to 500 stores across the U.S., in just over a year.
Known as a miracle plant in some of its native countries, moringa holds seven times the vitamin C content of oranges and four times the calcium content of milk and so it’s not surprising many are calling it the next superfood.
Lisa Curtis, chief executive of Kuli Kuli, first came across the plant when she was working as a Peace Corp volunteer in Niger, and she soon realized there would be a market for the nutritious plant in the U.S. Keen to bring prosperity to parts of the developing world, Curtis teamed up with a farming cooperative in Ghana to produce the plant and started making moringa snack bars out of ground up moringa, supplement powders and moringa tea.
The startup, which raised $50,000 through crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo, and a further $500,000 on AgFunder last year, has expanded its reach from 40 stores to 500 since last April after building partnerships with names such as Sprouts, the grocery store chain.
Currently in the market to raise a further $500,000 in seed capital — with $100,000 already committed — Kuli Kuli wants to expand its operations into other parts of the developing world and into new products, according to Curtis.
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“We are now expanding further and are about to launch a new product as part of our expansion into Haiti,” she told AgFunderNews. “The past few years we have been sourcing it from a women’s cooperative in Ghana, but we just got a grant from the Clinton foundation to start working in Haiti too.” Chelsea Clinton personally visited Haiti and the Smallholder Farmers Alliance, which Kuli Kuli is partnering with to grow moringa.
While store sales are a key part of Kuli Kuli’s strategy, Curtis sees the online market as an important area for growth. “Most food companies see just 10 percent of sales from online, but we have been able to do significantly more,” she said, while accepting that the majority of American still want to pick up and tough items before purchasing them.
So who are Kuli Kuli’s backers? The majority of investors so far have been angel investors and high net worth individuals, but Curtis expects the venture capital community will get involved when she launches the company’s Series A in the spring of 2016.
Lots of VCs have approached us and we will be ready for venture investment next year; we just need a bit more cash today to really help grow and prove out the concept first,” she said.
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