Kellogg’s venture arm supports superfood startup

Participation in the $4.25m funding round for Kuli Kuli marks the first investments from eighteen94, Kellogg’s $100m venture fund designed to give the company exposure to innovative food ideas.

In the debut investment from its new venture capital fund launched in June, Kellogg Company has led an investment in a startup working with female farmers in the developing world to produce products derived from moringa, a plant protein from trees grown in semiarid and tropical areas.

The cereals giant announced Wednesday that it led a $4.25 million series A fundraise for Kuli Kuli, an Oakland, California-based company that sells moringa-based bars, teas, powders and energy shots. Other investors in the round included InvestEco and S2G Venture.

“We want to create a world where everyone has access to nutritious sources of food. Through this relationship, Kuli Kuli will benefit from Kellogg’s resources and global presence, both of which help us achieve our goals,” said Kuli Kuli founder Lisa Curtis, who was acquainted with the plant while living in Niger with the Peace Corps, in a statement. She said Kuli Kuli sources it moringa from women-led cooperatives in West Africa, South America and the Caribbean.

Curtis told Agri Investor in an email that Kuli Kuli plans to use the capital from the fundraise to expand its sales and marketing operation, add new staff and develop additional products that will help the company expand beyond the 3,000 US retail locations where its products are already sold.

Kuli Kuli describes moringa, native to South Asia and also is also grown in other semi-arid and tropical regions including in Ethiopia, the Philippines, and many parts of Africa, as a “next-generation superfood.” Its leaves, roots and immature pods are consumed as a vegetable and leftover seed cake, extracted of its oil, can be used to purify drinking water, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. High in protein, fiber and vitamins A, B and C, moringa products have anti-inflammatory properties and can be a source of maternal and child nutrition, according to the FAO. Because moringa can have a bitter taste when eaten by itself, Kuli Kuli’s products mix the leafy green vegetable with other foods.

Kellogg announced the creation of eighteen94 capital in June as part of an effort to give the company access to next-generation innovation and cutting-edge trends in food. So named to commemorate the year W.K. Kellogg discovered flaked cereal, the fund plans to invest $100 million in early stage companies that have generating initial revenue.

1894 managing director Simon Burton told Agri Investor in an email that the size of future investments from the fund will vary but are expected to be in the $2 million to $5 million range.

“As consumer preferences move towards more diverse tastes and trends, the pace of innovation in the packaged foods industry continues to intensify,” said Kellogg vice president Gary Pilnick in a June statement announcing the fund. “By investing directly in the most promising entrepreneurs and ventures, we can increase greatly our access to game-changing ideas and trends that could become significant sources of growth for us.”

Other large, established food companies with investment vehicles designed to support the growth of early-stage ventures in new food products include Tyson Foods, Campbell’s Soup and General Mills.