Lisa Curtis has established herself as a pioneer of moringa in North America, and is widely credited with introducing the plant as an ingredient in the US. She launched Kuli Kuli first with healthy snack bars in 2014, and has been growing the brand since. Kuli Kuli now sells moringa powders, smoothie mixes and tea. At the Summer Fancy Food show in New York last month, Curtis showcased the brand’s first expansion into other superfoods with a line of 2.5oz shots.
Also at Fancy Food, Kunal Mirchandani displayed Miracle Tree, a tea brand he co-founded with his brother. It has a focus on caffeine-free herbal teas and powders and is based out of Sri Lanka. The company started selling in South America and the Caribbean in 2013, and launched in the US in 2015.
Going beyond fair trade
Curtis told BeverageDaily that Kuli Kuli still has about 60% of the moringa market share in the US. She said welcomes the increased competition, but believes she still has the best quality product and largest variety of formats, thanks to her direct farmer partnerships in Africa, South America and South East Asia.
Moringa grows all over the tropics, and Curtis first discovered the plant when she was 22 and volunteering for the Peace Corps in Niger. The locals offered it to her in a peanut snack and she found how useful it was as a healthy ingredient.
Now Curtis farms with primarily women, and believes that her business has more impact than fair trade. It pays above market wage and partners with local institutions to improve nutrition through school feeding programs.
Moringa on its own has complete protein, with more calcium, potassium, iron and fiber than other healthy foods like milk, bananas and yogurt. Curtis said that most plants are 90% water and just 10% nutrients, but moringa is only 80% water, so there is more room for the nutrients.
“No one knew what moringa was when we first launched. We had to be really creative, and use a lot of grassroots tactics to get the word out and build moringa up to the trending superfood that it is today,” Curtis said.
Enhancing moringa with more superfoods
With the brand’s new launch, Curtis’ biggest obstacles have been figuring out how to sustainably source new ingredients to the US market, and finding the best way to introduce them to US consumers. The team is beginning to do that with “other ingredients that enhance the benefits of moringa.”
The new shots are flavored with citrus, honey, apple and raspberry, but also feature Lion’s Mane, Chamomile and Camu Camu.
Curtis said that people report that moringa gives them a lot of ‘mental clarity,’ and Lion’s Mane is a mushroom that is also associated with focus. The citrus was paired with Camu Camu, a tangy superfruit from the amazon. Apple and cucumber flavors mix with a blend of supergreens and wheatgrass, and the honey chamomile leverages ashwagandha for relaxation and sleep.
Kuli Kuli products are in 7,000 US stores like Whole Foods, Sprout, CVS, Costco and Safeway. Curtis recommends that for experimenting, it often tastes best in things that are already expected to taste green, like pesto or guacamole.
The company is also in the middle of expansion, as it just completed its series B funding this spring which will help launch a new moringa ingredients business. Curtis set out to raise $5m and ended with $6.3m. Kuli Kuli investors include Kellogg, 1894 Capital and Griffith Food.
Miracle Tree: counteracting caffeine jitters
Kunal Mirchandani’s venture with his brother ‘celebrates moringa’ because he considers it “the most exceptional superfood on the market.” Miracle Tree showcases moringa and how it dominates kale and matcha across nutrient categories like antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
The herbal teas and powders are caffeine free, and the latter is recommended for blending into smoothies and baked goods. Mirchandani told BeverageDaily that Miracle Tree is vertically integrated, with everything farmed, grown and manufactured in-house in Sri Lanka.
The original line of teas is available in Original, Strawberry, Lemon, Mint, Blueberry, Mango, Ginger, Green Tea, Earl Grey, Chocolate, Turmeric, Rooibos, Honey & Vanilla and Apple & Cinnamon. At Fancy Food, Miracle Tree unveiled three new flavors--Peach & Ginger, Lemon & Ginger and Lemon & Chamomile.
Miracle Tree also promoted its latest moringa energy teas at Fancy Food, a ‘super caffeinated’ range that contains 50% more caffeine than the average cup of coffee. At 155mg per serving, Mirchandani said it opens up moringa tea to a whole new market: coffee alternatives.
Because moringa is naturally caffeine free, Miracle Tree infuses black tea caffeine extract into the moringa leaves during production. Mirchandani thinks it’s ideal for “people who want to move away from negatives of coffee and want to embrace the healthy sides of tea, but not necessarily give up the caffeine.”
He said that moringa’s antioxidants and amino acids counteract the caffeine’s jittery effect, so drinkers feel uplifted with more mental clarity but without the jitters. The energy teas launched with Orange & Passionfruit, Cherry & Chamomile, Vanilla Oolong Grape, Green Tea Ginger & Lemon and Chai Blend.
The company is also experimenting with other ingredients for the US market because Mirchandani thinks that US consumers are ‘very open’ to trying new foods in their diets.
“Miracle Tree is exploring more superfoods for the future or order to help consumers discover that there are so many amazing, nutritionally exceptional foods out there,” he said.
Maca, cacao, camu camu and lucuma are all potential superfoods Miracle Tree has its eyes on. Mirchandani expects each to have their own niche focus, with more details on specific products to come.