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Kellogg’s VC Unit Makes Maiden Investment in Moringa-Based Food Startup Kuli Kuli

January 12, 2017

Eighteen94, the venture capital unit of Kellogg’s, announced its first investment, taking the lead in a $4.25 million Series A for Kuli Kuli, a manufacturer and distributor of moringa-based bars, powders, and energy shots. Additional investors in the round include S2G Ventures and InvestEco.

Kuli Kuli was founded in 2013 in Oakland, California by CEO and co-founder Lisa Curtis, who while serving in the Peace Corps in Niger, became familiar with moringa, a plant protein that grows in tropical climates and whose leaves, pods and oils provide higher levels of iron calcium and protein than leafy greens.

“We are excited to partner with eighteen94 capital and Kellogg, and we’re thrilled that they see the potential in our company and in moringa as a next-generation superfood,” said Lisa Curtis, Kuli Kuli founder and CEO.

Once back in the states, however, Tech Crunch reports that Curtis could not find moringa products for sale, giving rise to the founding of the company with a two-part goal of bringing moringa to U.S. consumers as a new ‘superfood’, while also supporting women farmers in West Africa, the Caribbean, and South America through the establishment of supply chains and education initiatives in these emerging markets.

Since its inception, Kuli Kuli has debuted its Moringa Green Energy shots, Energizing Moringa Herbal Tea, Moringa Superfood bars, and Pure Moringa Powder on Indiegogo and has gone on to secure funding through two crowdfunding campaigns that raised a combined $153,000 before connecting with Angel investors through AgFunder, and securing two loans through Kiva, and grants from the Clinton Foundation.

Looking forward, Curtis told Food Navigator that Kuli Kuli plans to use the capital from its Series A to fund the expansion of its presence on retail shelves, to develop new products, and to strengthen its sales and marketing activity.

The Meeting of Synergies

In June 2016, Kellogg’s joined a growing list of CPG giants, launching eighteen94, its own venture capital arm named for the year the Kellogg brothers launched their iconic cereal. The unit will focus on food and related technology companies with revenues between $5 million and $10 million, and will give Kellogg’s the ability to use investments to access new market trends like organic, natural, “free-form,” and “superfoods” as a means to modernize and adjust to consumer trends without the acquisition of larger, established food companies.

Before eighteen94 committed to Kuli Kuli being its first investment, meetings began between the two parties in the summer of 2016 after the fund noticed the brand at an industry event, reports Bevnet. As discussions progressed, eighteen94 took notice of not only Kuli Kuli’s product line but its mission of social impact and its standing as a Benefit (B) Corporation.

“Our social mission is a critical area of focus for Kuli Kuli. We source high-quality moringa from women’s cooperatives across West Africa, South America, and the Caribbean,” said Curtis. “We continue to grow our moringa supply chain by providing fair, sustainable wages to farmers and women-led co-operatives around the world.”

“One of the things that contributed to the good fit between Kellogg and Kuli Kuli is the great social mission that they have,” Simon Burton, managing director of eighteen94, told NOSH. “We obviously do a lot of great work around the world and Kuli Kuli is doing so as well.”

Kuli Kuli’s products are currently being sold in more than 3,000 retail locations, including Whole Foods and Safeway, however, Curtis states that the most recent funding will enable the company to reach the next level.

“We are now at the stage where I think we’ve really proven out that moringa is a viable product in the U.S. market,” said Curtis. “We feel like we’ve gotten ourselves a good amount of momentum but in order to….really grow our retail presence and ensure that we have the sales and marketing dollars to succeed in more conventional retailers, we needed a little more capital and wanted some really great partners.”

 

-Lynda Kiernan

Lynda Kiernan is Editor with GAI Media and daily contributor to GAI News. If you would like to submit a contribution for consideration please contact Ms. Kiernan at lkiernan@globalaginvesting.com

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