Lisa Curtis is the founder & CEO of Kuli Kuli, the leading brand pioneering a new sustainably-sourced superfood called moringa. Lisa began working on Kuli Kuli while serving in the Peace Corps and, alongside her amazing team, has grown it into a multi-million dollar social enterprise with products in over 7,000 stores. Lisa was recently recognized on the Forbes “30 Under 30” 2018 list and she has appeared in numerous outlets including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
Tell us about the early days of Kuli Kuli.
After experiencing malnutrition as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, I turned to moringa to regain my strength. Moringa is a local superfood that helps with malnutrition, but few people benefit from it. I found that the women in my village saw no reason to grow moringa when there was no market demand. In the US, there are millions of health-conscious people looking for all-natural ways to nourish their busy lifestyles, just as there are a billion people around the world looking for nourishment to survive. Investing in agriculture is, hands down, the most effective method of reducing poverty, but investment in agriculture has been declining for the past two decades.
Upon my return from the Peace Corps, I co-founded Kuli Kuli, a mission-driven business, to drive economic growth, women’s empowerment, and sustainable agricultural development by utilizing moringa as a tool for nutritional security. Together with my childhood friend Jordan, I launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise money to manufacture Moringa Superfood Bars. The crowdfunding campaign was the most popular food campaign Indiegogo had ever had, enabling Kuli Kuli to launch onto the market in 2014. Whole Foods Market was the first retailer to pick up Kuli Kuli’s Moringa Superfood Bars, starting in Northern California.
It was initially quite difficult for us to gain traction, particularly in raising investment and also in consumer awareness. Most Americans had never heard of moringa and few investors were will to invest in an unproven product led by young founders. However, we kept hustling and sought to form partnerships with leaders in the field.
We launched our Pure Organic Moringa Powder in 2015 and expanded to over 2,000 retail locations. In 2016, we partnered with the Clinton Foundation, Whole Foods Market, and a nonprofit in Haiti to help reforest Haiti with moringa trees and develop the Moringa Green Energy shots made with Haitian moringa. By creating partnerships with small farming cooperatives in Ghana and Haiti, private foundations like the Clinton Foundation, and major retailers such as Whole Foods Market, Kuli Kuli has created a truly sustainable and philanthropic business model. In 2017, Kuli Kuli was one of the first Benefit Corporations to receive investment from a Fortune 500 company, Kellogg. Kuli Kuli now sells our Moringa Superfood Bars, Pure Organic Moringa Powder, Moringa Green Tea Energy shots, and new Organic Green Smoothie Mixes in over 7,000 stores nationwide. To date, Kuli Kuli has planted over 12 million moringa trees and partnered with over 2,400 farmers, providing more than $4.4 million in income to women-led farming cooperatives and family farms. Kuli Kuli has been featured in over 300 media publications, including Forbes, Inc., and in viral videos such as this one viewed 3 million times.