Health IT Innovation

How Focusing On Health, Climate Change And Farmers’ Earnings Can Build A Company

Spotting The Opportunity In Superfoods Early

In an age of Covid-19, the $137.0 billion superfood category is expected to surge, according to Grand View Research. Superfoods are rich in fibers, vitamins, antioxidants, polyphenols, and minerals that help metabolism; strengthen the immune system, muscles and bones; and protect the body from wear and tear.

The surge is due to their immunity-boosting health benefits and more. Driving demand for superfoods—such as moringa—are increasing healthcare costs, a growing geriatric population, food innovations, and changing lifestyles.

When Lisa Curtis, a vegetarian, felt sluggish on her bean, rice, and millet diet while in Niger with the Peace Corps, women in the local health center recommended eating the leaves of moringa trees. She did, and her energy returned.

It turns out that moringa has seven times more vitamin C than oranges and 15 times more potassium than bananas, according to WebMD. Moringa is a good source of calcium, protein, iron, and amino acids that help your body heal and build muscle. Plus, it’s packed with antioxidants, which can protect cells from damage and may boost your immune system.

Curtis wanted to share her find with Americans plus provide a good livelihood to women and family farmers in Africa. In 2011, with the help of friends working in their off-hours, she developed a tasty food bar. Kuli Kuli launched in 2014. In 2017, I wrote about some of the challenges Curtis faced. I recently caught up with her to find out how the company is doing.

The Benefits of Creating A Sustainable Food Forest

In addition to its health benefits, the moringa tree is super fast-growing. “One of the coolest things about the tree is that, within two to three months of planting, you can harvest the leaves,” said Curtis. “It grows year-round and can be harvested year-round. It’s great for small farmers who are looking for a crop that will pay off quickly and provide year-round income.” The tree is drought-resistant and grown in semi-arid, tropical, and subtropical regions like West, East, and South Africa, and the Caribbean.

Farmers who become suppliers for Kuli Kuli must follow regenerative farming practices that reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring the biodiversity of degraded soil biodiversity. The results are both carbon drawdown and improvement of the water cycle.

The company encourages farmers to plant other crops alongside moringa, including baobabs, cacao, chia, and hibiscus. These other superfood crops are paired with moringa in Kuli Kuli products. The mix of crops is better for the environment and better for farmers’ businesses because they now have multiple crops that they’re selling and are not wholly dependent on moringa.

“We hired somebody whose full-time job is to support small farmers who are interested in growing moringa and to help them meet all of the many quality requirements that they would need to be able to sell to us,” said Curtis.

Kuli Kuli has sourced $5.2 million worth of crops from 3,234 women and family farmers’. These farmers have planted 24.6 million moringa trees.

Managing Through The Covid-19 Crisis

Selling during the pandemic has been a roller coaster. Sales soared in March of 2020, then precipitously sank in April when distributors focused on stocking toilet paper and pasta. “We had to cancel many of our big promotions, including those around Earth Day,” said Curtis. “We cut expenses by 90%. It made us think much more strategically about how we spend our money.” Fortunately, Curtis had raised a Series B venture capital round in 2019 and had cash reserves.

Like other companies, the Kuli Kuli team learned to be more tolerant and flexible. This will probably carry over to the post-pandemic world. Everyone learned to tolerate disruptions to calls and Zoom meetings, like babies crying, dogs barking, and partners and children randomly popping in.

Importantly, as long as your goals are being met, when and where you work has become more flexible. The team learned that some types of work are better done in the office. “When we return to the office, we’ll have collaboration days when people are expected to be in the office,” said Curtis. “For other days of the workweek, coming to the office will be optional.”

Building On Success And Continuing To Innovate

When you’re pioneering something innovative, it is always challenging to build awareness. It is heartening that Kuli Kuli products are now sold in approximately 11,000 stores nationwide, including lots of natural food stores, Whole Foods, and even CVS and Walmart.

“The coolest thing is seeing how our products resonate in places like Walmart,” said Curtis. The retailer’s appeal is mainstream—offering everyday low prices. Kuli Kuli is a premium-priced product, yet Walmart customers like it. “We’re doing really well there. The buyer was so happy with our performance that he added us into another eight hundred stores.”

“We’re now starting to move away from selling just supplements and getting into the snack category,” said Curtis. The company interviewed some of its top customers and asked them when they use moringa. Customers told them that, in the morning, they start out super healthy, putting moringa in their smoothies or oatmeal. However, by the end of the day, they’re exhausted—especially those who are working moms, juggling kids at home—and they start eating junk food. Their go-to snack is chocolate. While they know the health benefits of dark chocolate, they often eat milk chocolate.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Kuli Kuli has launched a line of superbark. Moringa, in combination with other superfoods, is an excellent way to get an afternoon boost. Giving someone you care about an indulgent, low-sugar, nourishing dark chocolate snack powered by the world’s most sustainable superfoods is a thoughtful Valentine’s Day present.

“We’re making a shift to test our food innovations through our e-commerce site before launching them into retail,” said Curtis. “So, even though we’ve had quite a few retailers interested, it’s exclusively on our website for now.”

After the company gets consumer feedback and makes any tweaks necessary, the snack bar will launch in retail. This is likely to happen over summer.

How will you leverage lessons from the pandemic to grow your business?

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