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Sixth trend: superfood

Innovation / -

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Scientific research has led to the discovery of previously unexplored nutritional properties, many of which are presented as ‘superfoods’. Some of these already existed in nature but needed rediscovery and market distribution. Others are created by laboratory nutrient enrichment processes. In this micro-trend, a special mention goes to algae. Rich in vitamins and mineral salts, algae have long been present in the diet of many Asian peoples, and have been indicated by the FAO as one of the possible solutions to malnutrition in Developing Countries.

Kuli Kuli, the super-bar made from an African plant wins over the online community

Innovation / -

Le barrette nutritive Kuli Kuli a base di moringa oleifera

In the United States, snacks made from moringa oleifera, a superfood that grows in West Africa, are fighting malnutrition both among those who buy them and those who produce them. It is the first food product entirely funded through crowdfunding.

A plant that resists drought, grows quickly, is almost entirely edible and packed with protein, calcium, iron and other vitamins, all in one product. These are the characteristics of the moringa oleifera, growing in the western areas of Africa. It is a superfood that is the main ingredient of Kuli Kuli Bars – the completely natural, vegan and gluten-free nutrition bars – created by the homonymous start up, a pioneering importer of moringa to the United States.
The business idea is that of Lisa Curtis, who discovered and used this plant as a therapy in a health center of the Peace Corps in a village in Niger, where she came up against and suffered the problems of malnutrition first-hand. After returning to the United States, as a volunteer – having previously worked for Obama at the White House, for the United Nations Environment Program and Youth Advisor for finance impact in India – she began to study how to get the most out of the moringa leaves. The traditional process, in fact, made poor use of the nutrients of this crop, which, paradoxically were considered of little value.
With the help of childhood friend Valerie Popelka, the first prototypes of the bars were produced. Jordan Moncharmont and Anne Tsuei completed the team, bringing digital and design skills needed to make the final product a must-have in the marketplace.

A case study in crowdfunding
But Kuli Kuli boasts another record that qualifies it as an innovative start-up: it is the first food company to have been financed entirely online. In June 2013, Kuli Kuli raked in 50,000 dollars on the Indiegogo  platform (24,000 of which arrived in the first 24 hours of the campaign), getting the most significant funding "at grass roots" in the food sector. Moreover, the founder of Kuli Kuli is not shy of using engagement techniques on the web: in the past she worked as Communications Director at Mosaic, the first US marketplace of photovoltaic projects, bringing her team of six people from zero to 5 million dollars invested.
"For us, crowdfunding is the ideal tool for getting funds and starting to raise interest. We really feel like a civil society movement rather than a traditional business. – said Lisa Curtis, CEO of Kuli Kuli –  We know we have get to people’s hearts and minds. We have to get them to try a completely new plant, with almost unbelievable nutritional properties. And we have to get them to pay a little more to support the living conditions of those who cultivate moringa in another part of the world."

The processing cycle starts in Ghana
The raw material in fact comes from North Ghana (but the company has also worked in Niger and Nigeria), where 60,000 moringa trees were planted, harvested and processed by cooperatives employing 500 women in West Africa. The company focuses on Countries with dry climates – perfect for moringa – which suffer high levels of malnutrition, so as to make a positive impact on the living conditions of local populations.
Last April, Kuli Kuli launched a second campaign of equity crowdfunding, (a sort of collection aimed at professional investors) where prominent names took part, like the food entrepreneur Mary Waldner and the new technology investor, Brad Feld.
Kuli Kuli was also rewarded by Ledbury Launch Fund, and received funding from both the Wild Gift Better World Venture and the Ashoka Nutrients for All. Thanks to these funds, the start-up has been able to expand its commercial presence in the United States, with the aim of achieving 1 million euros in sales.
Lisa Curtis, meanwhile, has picked a raft of awards: she was named StartingBloc Fellow, Wild Gift Better World Entrepreneur, Ashoka and Emerging Innovator Udall Scholar.
In the US, the company now provides part-time work for 21 people as brand ambassadors, bloggers, interns and seasonal employees.

The Algae Factory, goodness from the sea

Innovation / -

Ricche in proteine, vitamine, omega 3 e 6, aminoacidi essenziali: le alghe sono i migliori candidati come ‘cibo del futuro’

This startup company develops food concepts based on innovative ingredients, such as Arthrospira algae. To sell them to the food industry, but also to gift them to children in Developing Countries.

Rich in proteins, vitamins, omega 3 and 6, essential amino acids… but their production does not require fertile soil. These characteristics place algae among the top contenders in the “food of the future” category, with the FAO indicating them as a possible remedy for malnutrition. And if many people in the Western world don’t find the idea gastronomically appealing, why not use them as an ingredient in a more inviting food concept? This is the idea inspiring The Algae Factory, a start-up conceived by Pierluigi Santoro, a specialist in agriculture and environmental issues with a degree in Agrarian Science from Florence, and Stefania Abbona, food lover and certified wine expert graduated in Logistical and Manufacturing Engineering from Turin University.
The Algae Factory develops food concepts with innovative ingredients, such as algae, aimed mainly at vegetarians, vegans and people with lactose and gluten intolerance. Their prototypes are then manufactured and sold by food companies already established in the sector, with their own manufacturing facilities.
From Puglia to San Francisco, via The Netherlands
“The algae idea – explains Pierluigi Santoro – was born roughly a year ago in Puglia, thanks to funds obtained through Bollenti Spiriti financing, a program of the Puglia Regional Government, which made it possible to create a company for producing algae. Then we realized that the real challenge was to integrate them in everyday food products, trying to demonstrate their added value in terms of nutritional values and environmental impact.”
“We decided to compete for the Alimenta2Talent competition offered by the Municipality of Milan and the Padania Technological Park, which will allow us to participate in Expo Milano 2015 – continues Stefania Abbona, who also has a Master in Hospitality Management from New York’s Pace University – At the same time, through the University of Wageningen, in The Netherlands, where I had undertaken a Master in Food Safety and Pierluigi another in Environmental Sciences, we took part in the Ecotrophelia Competition, a European competition for eco-innovative foods.
We won the first phase, competing against other Dutch teams, and thus we won the opportunity of representing The Netherlands in the finals, during the SIAL in Paris. The Wageningen University business incubator sustained us a lot, both in terms of finance and networking. This was how The Algae Factory was born, thanks also to the commitment of Gianluca Carenzo, director of the PTP and StartLife, the Wageningen incubator. Thanks to Linze Rijswijlk, we also received further finding which allowed us to develop the first food concept.”
The first industrial collaborations
Backed by this European task force, the social venture company (as the two founders like to call it) is on its way to San Francisco, where Santoro is currently taking part in a Fulbright Program on “Entrepreneurship and Management”. Here the startup has received favorable judgements from various venture capital companies specialized in the food sector.
On top of this, The Algae Factory has begun an important collaboration with Royaan, an important Dutch snack manufacturer, for which it is developing an Arthrospira (aka Spirulina) and vegetable croquette. “This product, suitable for vegetarians, vegans, people with lactose and gluten intolerance or in search of halal food, will be distributed in the Benelux countries and Germany – Santoro assures us – We have various new products in mind which we are about to develop, with other companies and other types of algae.”
“But creating products is not our only desire – adds Abbona – Another extremely innovative aspect of our company is its BITE for BITE social business model: in collaboration with a group of NGOs, we create algae-based products to be distributed free to children in Developing Countries. This is a difficult but extremely rewarding project, but our conviction is that if everyone does something, we really can improve the global society we live in – even if it’s only a drop in the ocean.”

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