The infusion also will enable Kuli Kuli to hire additional staff “who have been around the block for a while,” and can help guide the existing “small and scrappy team” to successfully achieve its growth goals, CEO Lisa Curtis told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We are really excited to partner with eighteen94” to continue the strong growth and product development that Kuli Kuli already has experienced in its first three years, said Curtis, adding that as the first company to bring the protein-dense superfood to America in a substantial way, “we really have the wind at our back, so we want to move quickly to capture that.”
Providing retailer support
To do so, Curtis said a major goal of the funds will be to invest more heavily in sales and marketing – primarily at the retailer level, which currently includes more than 3,000 stores nationwide at Whole Foods Market and as of this fall Safeway and Albertsons.
“We certainly are not going to be able to compete with the super large brands with large ad buys, so we are taking more of a grassroots strategy and investing more online” and in stores to ensure our products are merchandised in a way that attracts and engages consumers, Curtis said. One way it will do this is by working with Albertsons’ Just 4 U smartphone application that customizes coupons for consumers, which Curtis hopes will introduce moringa to more people.
The young company also will use the funds to hire a national sales director, which likely will ease Curtis’ burden as she has done all the sales herself so far. “It has been working well and we are in 3,000 stores, but we want to take it to the next level and get into new stores,” so a dedicated staff member would help, she said.
She also wants to hire industry veterans to support sales operations and marketing, she noted.
New product development at Kuli Kuli
As sales and marketing ramps up, Curtis says she wants to ensure they have plenty to offer retailers and consumers, so Kuli Kuli will continue to innovate new products to expand its existing portfolio of bars and energy shots.
While she couldn’t share specific details about new products on the horizon, she said that Kuli Kuli is working with a few retailers to flesh out new concepts and hopes to move more squarely into the plant-protein space, which is extremely “hot” right now.
“I think we have learned a lot over the past three years about what people like about moringa and what people don’t like and how folks are using our product,” which will influence new product development, Curtis said.
For example, she said many consumers use moringa as a replacement for greens in their smoothies or savory dishes when they don’t have spinach, kale or other leafy products available. As a shelf-stable option, moringa is easy to keep on hand, she added.
Curtis acknowledged the grassy taste of moringa can be a hurdle for some consumers, but she notes that bitter flavors are becoming more popular as shoppers become more familiar with produce such as arugula and kale, making moringa an easier sell.
In addition to providing financial resources, Kuli Kuli’s relationship with Kellogg will allow it to access the packaged food giant’s global presence to further expand exposure of the brand and moringa.
Eighteen94’s first investment
As for Kellogg, the investment is the first from its new venture capital fund eighteen85, which launched last June to “invest primarily in companies pursing next-generation innovation, bolstering Kellogg Company’s access to cutting-edge ideas and trends,” according to a release from Kellogg.
It adds in the statement that the fund’s “investment mandate includes a focus on start-up businesses pioneering new ingredients, foods, packaging and enabling technology.”
In addition to Kellogg, this series A fundraise for Kuli Kuli also included InvestEco and S2G Ventures.
The fundraise follows closely a significant $1 million seed fundraise by the company that included help from the Clinton Foundation and Open Hands Initiative as well as two crowdfunding campaigns and angel investors.
What are the emerging trends in snacks?
From sprouted mung beans to Japanese-inspired onigiri, the snacks market is a hotbed of innovation. But what’s next? Hear from Peeled Snacks, Dang Foods, Field Trip Jerky, Protes and board advisor and guru Brad Barnhorn at our FREE-to-attend online Snacking Innovation Summit on Feb 15.