Food & Drinks

From A Side Hustle To A Driving Force In The Plant-Based Movement, KOS Is Now Moving Onto Bigger Things

Allan Stevens and his long-time business partner Tony Stahl were not your typical health-focused men years ago, when the pair was selling electronic accessories on Amazon
AMZN
out of their Washington office.

In Stevens’ own words, he was a “non-nutrition guy who ate indiscriminately and plentiful”, but later became a champion in the wellness space — an indisputable fact now that his supplements business KOS has grown triple-digit in sales year-over-year since its inception in 2018, emerging as a major force in the plant-based movement.

That transformation, however, wasn’t accidental when the first employee of Stevens and Stahl’s e-commerce business was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer at the age of 40. The employee passed away only months after he was hired. 

“That was our first face-to-face experience with mortality, and it rattled me to the absolute core,” Stevens recently told me, which propelled him to opt for a healthier plant-based diet that helped him lose 65 pounds, and increased his mental clarity.

At the time, Stevens was also amassing knowledge of how to run a successful business on Amazon, and realized there was a big market gap for good-tasting protein powder that’s also vegan and keto-friendly.

Most vegan products seemed to target a niche audience, and appeared semi-medicinal and homogeneous in appearance, Stevens explained, “whereas in reality, I saw plant protein being consumed as a mainstream meal replacement.” 

Inclusive packaging and unique formulation

KOS’s mass appeal begins with its packaging — all hand-drawn frolicking characters who are playing and cheering, embellished with various plants, mugs, football, and other lighthearted objects. 

The image also varies depending on each product, from the initial protein line to juice blends, and specialty supplements, to create an “open and welcoming”, yet “completely disruptive” feel, according to Stevens.

The company’s unique formulation process is another differentiator: Unlike many other supplements on the market that are flavored either by a specialized outsourced partner or in-house by their co-packers, the KOS team has set up a direct office at its co-manufacturer’s facility, and fully utilized its flavor lab to run product testing.

“So every time we build a product, we may end up having 100 different samples created,” Stevens told me. 

Over time, KOS has grown from its initial two SKUs as a side hustle to the duo’s electronic business, to 20 SKUs in 2019, expanding beyond e-commerce to retailers nationwide, including Whole Foods
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, Kroger
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, The Vitamin Shoppe
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, Walmart
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, and Target
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In brick-and-mortar stores alone, KOS has seen a 2,100% sales increase year-over-year — its stellar performance has caught the attention from investors, including Austin, Texas-based Springdale Ventures that has led the company’s previous $2.1 million seed round, as well as Whole Foods’ former CEO Walter Robb, and Horizon Bank’s chair Jim Schneider. 

Closing series A funding 

These investors are expected to participate in KOS’s ongoing series A fundraise that will likely to close within a few months, alongside several other institutional investors, to fuel the company’s continued product development, and international market expansion.

KOS has recently entered China through’s the country’s online platform Tmall, an effort that was provided by Springdale Ventures’ contact Joe Canterbury who previously helped Starbucks
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expand into the same region.

Commenting on KOS’s partnership with Springdale Ventures, Stevens said: “I think of Springdale as a warm blanket on a cold day. When we have questions that are above our pay grades just from the lack of experience, they always have somebody or friends who have the know-how.”

The venture fund has also supported its portfolio companies by advising on retailer relationships, finding talents, and guiding on how to create an adaptive brand, according to its cofounder and general partner, Genevieve Gilbreath.

“We invested in KOS because we believe the approach they are taking to making health and wellness accessible to a larger population has a huge potential, and can make a big impact on the lives of so many people,” Gilbreath said.

She noted how Springdale Ventures prioritizes working with thoughtful founders like Stevens and Stahl who can build world-class brands, saying: “It is hard to put my finger on one favorite thing about working with them because there are so many reasons: They are incredibly creative thinkers who are always open to exploring creative solutions and unafraid to forge new pathways; Not only are they open to our guidance, I also am always learning from them; They really have become good friends as well.”

Gilbreath believes the $10 billion global plant-based market will continue to grow at a record pace as concerns for both personal and planetary health remain at the forefront at people’s collective consciousness.

Steps towards sustainability

In addition to developing new products, including a recently launched single-serve immunity-boosting gummy through a partnership with JetBlue, KOS also plans to make significant progress in sustainability.

The company is partnering with environmental conservation organization SeaLegacy as a founding member of the latter’s Good Ocean Project, an initiate that aims to reduce plastic waste in the ocean.

KOS will also gradually transition to adopting a post-consumer recycled bag for its products starting in June, according to Stevens.

“We’re not going to eliminate all plastic immediately,” Stevens said, “but coupled with our ambitious spending on social media, we’re hoping to get the word out about the benefits, and convince buyers this is the right move for their stores too.”

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