Editor’s note: Startland selected 12 Kansas City firms to spotlight for its annual Startups to Watch list. The following is one of 2019’s companies. Click here to view the full, ranked list of Startups to Watch.
Life Equals’ elevator pitch: Balance the Superfood Shot provides half your daily fruits and vegetables in a convenient two-ounce shot. We are on a mission to provide an easy way for individuals and families to improve their health, one shot at a time.
Consumers in search of more energy deserve better than a quick fix made possible by unhealthy ingredients, said Kyle Fitzgerald, co-founder of Life Equals, which produces Balance the Superfood Shot.
Founders: Kyle FitzGerald, Chris Thowe
Founding year: 2011 (2016 brand launch as The Superfood Shot)
Amount raised to date: $1 million
Noteworthy investors: Luiz Edmond, former CEO Anheuser-Busch, CSO Anheuser-Busch InBev; John Guerra, former CFO Anheuser-Busch InBev; Scott Henderson, former COO and President, 5-Hour Energy; M3 Ventures; Square Deal Ventures; Mid-America Angels; Arch Angels; Gopher Angels; Nebraska Angels; KCRise Fund
Programs completed: SparkLab KC
Current employee count: 10
“The Superfood Shot is literally a new category, so we own that,” he said. “This idea that you can get a half day of fruits and veggies — which is what everybody is missing — in a little 2-ounce shot … It’s super powerful. There’s not very many food-based, product/beverage companies that have a super clear value proposition for the customer, but we do.”
“We’ve taken space from 5-Hour Energy,” FitzGerald added. “But we’d call our product a functional beverage.”
Launched in KC in 2016 — and now in almost every major grocer across Kansas City — the Superfood Shot gets attention thanks to its contents, as well as it’s unique look, he said, noting the product is the first in North America to feature a 2-ounce aluminum bottle.
“That’s a real packaging innovation, so that product just pops off the shelves when customers see it,” FitzGerald said. “We’re also 100-percent organic, which is a big deal in our industry. People want something that’s clean and convenient. They want to know, ‘What’s in it for me?’”
The Roeland Park-based brand has exploded in retail, he said, specifically noting an ongoing partnership with Whole Foods.
“Whole Foods Market is really the weather vane of the industry, as the leading national grocery chain,” FitzGerald said. “They started with three stores in Kansas City for us, and we do so well that they expanded us to all of the Rocky Mountains, which is a seven-state region with 33 locations.”
Life Equals expects to expand within Whole Foods to the Pacific Northwest in July, which will double the startup’s footprint, he said. There’s a chance it could also gain access to another 63 stores in the Midwest, FitzGerald added.
Still, online sales remain 60 percent of Life Equals business, he said, with strong performance from Amazon. A recently launched Turmeric blend — the company’s first line extension — found unexpected success on the platform, he noted.
Click here to see the Superfood Shot products available on Amazon.
“Our Turmeric blend just hit the No. 1 hot new release on Amazon for keyword search ‘turmeric,’” FitzGerald said. “It’s really powerful. It has 1,500 milligrams of Tumeric, and that’s the most studied clinical dose. So if you want to get the benefits of Turmeric — overall longevity, of course, and anti-inflammation, which is on the top of everyone’s mind — that’s the right amount.”
It’s the culmination so far of years of iteration from co-founders FitzGerald and Chris Thowe.
“We both had the entrepreneur dream of starting a business, and neither of us liked the idea of working for someone else our whole lives,” FitzGerald said. “So we came up with our initial product idea and kept working on it.”
Both have been buoyed by the addition to their team of Alicia Poole, he added.
“She was the woman who launched Red Bull in the Midwest, and then helped nationally launch 5-Hour Energy,” FitzGerald said. “She has more than 20 years of beverage experience that she brings to the team. As a co-owner, she’s really helped us to grow from where we were to where we are now.”
Preparing to close a new investment round soon, Life Equals also is on pace to introduce more products with new shot formulations, he said.