“One of the things that I find really fascinating that a couple of our scientific advisors explained to me is that when a plant has a really bitter, astringent flavor that is the plant’s way of defending itself against outside bugs and other things. And then when you consume that it helps your body defend itself. So, very strong flavors can be a positive sign that there are some real medicinal benefits in this plant,” Kuli Kuli CEO and founder Lisa Curtis told NutraIngredients-USA.
But, she added, those same strong flavors can also turn off consumers – “especially those new to superfoods and maybe even new to supplements generally” who came to the space during the pandemic but who still want their food to taste good.
To meet the needs of this shifting consumer base, Curtis said Kuli Kuli turned to gummies as a “really delicious way” to deliver a functional amount 400 to 500 milligrams of superfoods, including moringa, which is paired with turmeric, adaptogenic chaga and other super greens in its line of three Super Gummies that are lemon, berry and green apple flavored respectively.
She added that while the company wanted the gummies to be as tasty and craveable as candy, it also wanted them to be low-sugar – a combination that Curtis said was difficult at first but was ultimately achieved with one dose of two Super Gummies coming in at 4g of sugar.
‘When Whole Foods says jump, you say how high’
The high nutritional and functional bar that Kuli Kuli set for its Super Gummies wasn’t easy to clear, but Curtis said it was possible thanks to help from Whole Foods Market, with which it had previously worked with to create the shots in its wide range of moringa-packed products.
The retailer was so excited about the idea of the Super Gummies last August Kuli Kuli brainstormed the concept with it that it asked for three SKUs by the following April.
While a tight turnaround, Curtis said the company made it happen because “when Whole Foods says jump, you say how high is it.” But she also acknowledged “it was a big deal for us to develop and deliver this order” in six months and so she asked the retailer for a loan for “marketing dollars to really make this fly.”
When the retailer acquiesced as it had done previously, Curtis paired the debt with loans from two impact investors for a total of $1.3m that she is now using to roll the supplements out nationwide beginning this week online and later this fall at more than 3,000 stores at Sprouts Farmers Market, Vitamin Shoppe and in Whole Foods Market stores, among other retailers.
The expanded launch follows a successful soft exclusive launch this spring at Whole Foods, which Curtis said has “identified moringa as one of the top trends of 2022” and is “very bullish on moringa.”
The retailer’s excitement about moringa and Kuli Kuli’s gummies will take the dietary supplement format to new areas of its stores. No longer sequestered to the health aisle alongside over-the-counter drugs, protein shakes and other wellness products – Kuli Kuli’s Super Gummies will appear on shelf alongside other speciality foods, including cheese and crackers.
“There is going to be a display of our gummies in this really different place where they don’t normally put supplements, but our buyer felt like this is a product she is really excited about and is something she wanted to test in front of a different audience” to increase its mainstream appeal, Curtis said.
A more sustainable alternative to shots
As distribution for the gummies expands, Kuli Kuli is pulling back on its energy shots, which it also co-created and launched with Whole Foods Market in 2016.
“Shelf stable shots, like the moringa ones we had, got hit pretty hard during the pandemic,” when consumers were more drawn to the refrigerated section for ready-to-drink shots and juices that were fresh as opposed to shelf stable options that were more associated with impulse purchases, Curtis said.
“That is kind of the lesson with all beverages, right? You always want to be in the cooler,” Curtis quipped. But that also requires a different business model, distribution and merchandising strategy.
“We realized we’re not designed to succeed there,” she added.
She also noted that the move from shots to gummies better aligns with the company’s and consumers’ increasing focus on sustainability as it allows Kuli Kuli to ditch single-use plastic bottles in favor a more eco-friendly pouch made from 40% post-consumer recycled plastic – which Curtis said will save the equivalent amount of 100,000 plastic water bottles from heading to the landfill within one year of launching the gummies, if all goes according to plan.
“We’re excited to continue to grow in the supplement space and continue to really make more sustainable powerful superfoods accessible and delicious,” Curtis added. “We’re really interested to see as the gummies continue to grow what that means for future products and how we can make these really amazing ingredients more easily understandable and taste really good – something that is not easy to do, but we’re committed to it.”