5-a-day, developed by the World Health Organization, encourages everyone to have at least five portions of fruits and vegetables a day to improve health and wellbeing while decreasing mortality. However, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, only 9% of Americans are meeting the suggested intake requirements. Kencko is a direct-to-consumer food brand that’s centered around making the recommended intake seamless with its line of flash-frozen, slow-dried organic fruits and vegetables. The company, founded in 2016, currently offers just-add-liquid smoothies and ready-to-eat gumdrops and is adding a bowl offering that requires you to just add hot water for a quick meal. All items contain no refined sugar, no artificial additives, are organic, sent in compostable packaging using carbon-neutral shippers. Kencko is available as a subscription with 30 smoothies priced at $83.70 (<$3 per smoothie). The offering is resonating with customers as the company indicated it’s growing 500% per year on average.
AlleyWatch caught up with Kencko CEO and Founder Tomas Froes to learn more about how his own personal experience with gastritis led to the AHA moment to launch the company, the company’s strategic plans, latest round of funding, which brings the total funding raised to $13.5M, and much, much more…
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
This Series A fundraise round raised $10M. The round was led by existing investor, Siddhi Capital, and included participation from both current and new investors including NextView Ventures, Riverside Ventures, Silas Capital, Cheyenne Ventures, Shilling Capital, Indico Capital, Mission Point, Gather Ventures, and Nextblue Ventures.
Tell us about the product or service that kencko offers.
kencko transforms organic fruits and vegetables into convenient on-the-go options using a flash-freeze, slow-dry technology. This process allows us to formulate food products that can be prepared in seconds, ranging from our just-add-liquid smoothies, to ready-to-eat gumdrops, and our soon-to-launch bowls, ready in minutes after simply adding hot water. Our mission is to make it easy for busy people to meet their recommended “five-a-day” servings of fruits and vegetables.
Not only are our food products organic, free from refined sugar and artificial additives, and rich in plant nutrients including essential fiber but they’re also delicious. We work with a ground of incredible chefs and food scientists within our research kitchen to create the best balance of flavor and nutrition.
Several years ago, I was diagnosed with acute gastritis. I was told by doctors that I would spend the rest of my life on a regimen of pills – something I couldn’t accept. Growing up in Portugal, I was involved with my grandfather’s farm and was introduced early to a vegetarian lifestyle. After researching my diagnosis, I decided to turn to this lifestyle to see how it might help my outlook.
My diet changed rapidly and I was taking in five to ten servings a day of fruit and vegetables, which worked; I was soon healed. While overjoyed, I realized two issues with a produce-heavy diet that I wanted to solve. First, finding healthy food on the go is inconvenient. Second, there’s a lot of waste: brown bananas, slimy salad leaves. Fresh produce is extremely perishable, and It’s almost impossible to plan your week’s meals without waste. Through my research, I found freeze drying to be a solution to both of these issues. That’s when kencko was born.
How is kencko different?
One major differentiator, when compared to other whole foods, smoothies, or on-the-go meal brands, is the food waste which is avoided through our technology. We freeze-dry produce, giving it a similar nutritional profile to fresh, but simultaneously making it much less perishable and far easier to transport and store. Throughout last year alone, we helped our members to avoid throwing away around 660 tons of fresh produce.
Additionally, our membership program rewards customers for adopting a more plant-rich diet, and supports them with free nutrition coaching and advice from our in-house team of Registered Dietitians.
What market does kencko target and how big is it?
Only 10% of Americans consume enough fruits and vegetables, day-to-day. Our goal is to aid that 10% in making it more convenient, but also target that much larger 90% and their pain points in consuming produce by making it more convenient, but also delicious.
What’s your business model?
We offer kencko through a subscription model. Our members can choose from a range of flexible monthly plans, and pick the flavors they want for each delivery. They can pause or cancel any time without penalty, but while they maintain an active subscription they benefit from perks like free nutrition coaching, rewards points, and loyalty discounts.
What are your post-COVID office plans?
As an international company with employees across continents, we were well-positioned before COVID to go remote. The world is still getting to grips with what the future of work will look like, so we will stay flexible and continue to plan based on our team’s safety and mental wellbeing.
What was the funding process like?
This round of fundraising went quite well. We found our investors engaged and highly responsive to our mission, excited about the work we’ve already done, and eager to further our growth.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
It’s a very interesting time in the venture capital world at the moment with a rush of new capital, so we were mindful of working with investors focused on the space specifically.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
The raise comes in tandem with the news that kencko has been growing on average over 500% per year, after just three years in business.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
We’re excited to be launching our next moment in February. This time we are addressing those no-time-for-lunch days with kencko bowls: just add hot water for a balanced meal. You can also expect us to begin dipping our toes in brick-and-mortar retail this upcoming year.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
You can expect constant flavor innovation, and increased sustainability initiatives and packaging revamps as we aim for the lowest-impact product possible.
We’ve also got our eyes on expanding our reach into Canada and the UK, and you can expect further global growth in the future.
What’s your favorite outdoor dining restaurant in NYC?
- Nami Nori, Williamsburg
- Jajaja Plantas Mexicana, West Village
- Aurora Ristorante, Brooklyn