Your Super Food Founders Michael Kuech & Kristel DeGroot
In Fall, 2017, I was planning a pilgrimage to India when I received an email from a colleague. His company had invested in a superfood start-up that was coming to the US. Would I meet with them? “How many new superfoods can there be?” I thought, but ok, I’ll meet with them. Upon intro to Your Super co-founders, Michael Kuech and Kristel DeGroot, I knew I needed to reroute. These two bright lights have the palpable energy of many entrepreneurs, successful creatives, and inspired philanthropists. They are filled with the contagious spark that comes from a genuine desire to change people’s lives for the better.
The millennial couple started their mission shortly after Michael’s cancer treatment at age 24. During a chemo session, the two watched Forks Over Knives and became vegans the next day.
Experimenting with Superfood Blends
Kuech, who had engaged in a typical athletic diet of heavy meat consumption and carbo-loading, began to supplement with superfood mixes and vegan proteins. Problem was, the two couldn’t find any that were up to Kristel’s clean standards, so she began blending her own. Friends and family noticed the radiant difference in these two, and wanted to get in on the shape-shifting. The pair’s dual business, finance, and management degrees illuminated a basic business truth. They had demand but no good supply.
Michael and Kristel toured wholesale facilities and were horrified. Kristel recalls, “When we started to learn more about the supply chain, it was like, ‘Ok how does it work? Where does it come from? Do you test every batch?’ And then we suddenly found out, ‘No, not every batch is tested.’ Then you ask where something is from, they say, ‘In Brazil’. Ok cool but, WHERE in Brazil? What else is made in the facility? Are the workers compensated and treated fairly…?”
It became obvious to Michael and Kristel that they needed to meet with farmers directly. In doing so, they created a transparent supply chain, and quite a few friendships.
“Meeting with people who have done the right thing, for 20+ years, and have been laughed at when they chose not to use pesticides, or other chemicals, was an amazing and humbling experience. With our relationship we hope to support them, help them grow their own business and expand to doing even more good. It’s so great to be able to use superfoods they have been growing and protecting, and paying it forward, feeding a new generation.”
The digital natives began a direct-to-consumer distribution model headquartered in Berlin. Germans take their sausage and brats seriously, so many of the original adopters needed education on healthy eating practices, vegan recipes, and shopping lists. DeGroot is an Institute of Integrative Nutrition graduate who earned a certificate in plant-based nutrition from eCornell University. She is a plant-based health coach and yoga teacher who lit up the content strategy and digital marketing. Kuech raised finances, hired operations managers, and the like.
Kuech reflects, “I’ve come to understand, if we’re living in this world, in this way, we need to build a company that is socially responsible. It doesn’t feel entirely right to us without giving something back at the origin, to the people who are growing these foods, and to in people nearby regions who have less than we do.” They created a partnership with Action Against Hunger, and with every purchase, a life-saving meal bar feeds a malnourished child.
Building Community Worldwide and Moving to the US
While the team was building a strong global community, they noticed that an unusual amount of orders were coming from the US and specifically, California. Michael Kuech reminisces humorously, “We would call them up and ask why do they want to pay $40 extra shipping and wait eight weeks when they already have all this there!” As it turns out, even in the oversaturated health and wellness market of Los Angeles, clients loved that the products were so simple, without fillers. There was no guar gum, no stevia, no xantham, and nothing artificial. “What’s on the front is what’s on the back!” DeGroot remarks, of their five-ingredient max practice and truth in labeling.
Even with the insistence of the American audience, the duo debated on whether a West Coast outpost would be wise. But before they knew it, an American investment made their idea a reality. With a small office on the ostentatious Abbot Kinney Boulevard, the two fell firmly into hipster-central. In this Venice enclave, it’s not unusual for millennials in updated ‘90s style to be shooting selfies for their snapchat with one hand, while the other grips a piece of rose quartz. With red lips and high waisted jeans they spend $20+ a meal on vegan, gluten-free fare. The epicenter of this is Erewhon Natural Foods on the corner of Venice Boulevard and Abbott Kinney.
Erewhon, a natural food store since 1952, has persevered through decades of health fads and remains a tastemaker and trendsetter. Your Super was thrilled to be chosen to be sold on the stores shelves, in mid-2018. “I remember going there a few years ago and thinking, someday we could possibly be here. It is a dream come true to see that happen in our first year in the States,” Kuech says.
Serving Superfood Blends
In addition, Your Super has shared their blends at pop-ups including at YogaWorks, Unplug Meditation, Outdoor Voices clothing store, Pepperdine University, and more. They are the official vegan protein of Wanderlust Hollywood, and have partnered with Manduka on multiple occasions. In New York City, Your Super retails at the famous ABC Carpet & Home, Gourmet Garage, and Inscape Meditation. Online destination Free People carries their travel-sized products for festival-goers, and campers alike.
While not entirely surprising that coastal cities would take to these founders and these products, the real shock came when the team’s fulfillment center made a customer map. There were an uncanny amount of orders from food deserts: areas of the country without many brick and mortar healthy food choices. “We thought we were coming to the US in response to the customers in California who wanted us to there. But we’re learning that it’s really the people in other parts of the country who need these products and this information.”
With films like Forks Over Knives, Food, Inc., Fed Up, Super Size Me, and others, people are contemplating the cumulative effects of their food choices, on their own health, as well as on the health of the environment.
While in the Your Super office, I’ve heard the praise of customers on the line whose lives have been impacted by the simplicity of these superfood mixes, and the open communication of the founders.
Some of the stories that stand out include the following: The single mom in Missouri is who makes $200 a week, and wants to be around for her son’s high school graduation, the cancer survivor in Boca Raton who is rebuilding his immune system after treatment, the Silicon Valley exec who gets the kick she needs in the morning using Energy Bomb, the millennial podcaster who is vegan because its trendy, and the famous Hollywood actress who has made it her mission to slow down climate change through plant-based eating.
Now about to hit the one year mark in the US, the customer service team has tripled in size to keep up with the phone calls. Customers regularly recognize the duo on the sidewalk and supermarket check out lines. The company has expanded into a new storefront, and event series space. Like all successful entrepreneurs, Michael and Kristel have their sites set on the next set of impossible goals, which, no doubt they will hit with precision and ease.
We throw around words like “awesome” “great” “amazing” and the like, but these two really epitomize what it means to be SUPER. And more importantly, they want YOU to feel super too.
Amy V. Dewhurst is the President of Sense + Color. She has spent more than a decade, building brands, creating content, and ensuring success for projects, and personalities globally. Learn more about her at @sense_and_color