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The main baby food category is dominated by a small number of brands, including Nestle's Gerber (74 percent market share), Hero's Beech-Nut (11 percent), Del Monte (8 percent) and Earth's Best (3 percent).
But below that $1.5 billion mainstream category is the subcategory of organic baby and toddler foods. Some consider it small at $100 million; others think that number is considerable and, with an 18 percent growth rate, full of opportunity.
One of the leaders, with sales of $30 million, is New York-based HappyFamily, (often known as HappyBaby after its first product line). The company was launched on Mother's Day 2006 by co-founders Shazi Visram, CEO, and Jessica Rolph, COO.
They were pioneers in the relatively new category of frozen organic baby food, using fresh, premium organic ingredients and rapidly freezing them to lock in natural taste and nutrients. No pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetic modification or preservatives are used in their products.
Visram – you've seen her on American Express Small Business TV commercials – and Rolph make up half of the R&D team; the other key players are renowned pediatrician Dr. Robert Sears and registered dietitian Amy Marlow, both of whom are advisors to the company.
"We founded the company because there was a severe lack of truly healthy food for infants and toddlers on the market," says Visram. "I saw an opportunity to create a meaningful brand in that space and offer products parents could feel truly good about every bite their baby was eating."
She says she also wanted to build a brand around sustainability and partner with socially responsible business partners. "In essence, to create a modern brand for today's mom," Visram says.
HappyFamily is available nationally in more than 10,000 specialty and mainstream retail stores including Whole Foods, Target, Kroger, Albertson's, Publix, CAP and Hannafords as well as online retailers amazon, diapers.com and alice.com among others.
Brands include: HappyBaby fresh frozen organic baby meals; HappyBaby and HappyTot meals in pouches, fruits and veggies with Salba (a nutrient-dense supergrain); HappyBellies, organic baby cereals with DHA, prebiotics and probiotics and choline to support brain development; HappyPuffs, organic baby puffs with whole grains, fruits, vegetables and choline; HappyBites, handheld organic toddler/kids meals with hidden veggies; and HappyMelts, the first USDA-certified organic freeze-dried yogurt and fruit snacks containing both prebiotics and probiotics to enhance baby's overall digestive health.
"HappyBaby immediately stuck out as the perfect name on many levels," according to Visram. "We believe every baby deserves to be a happy baby, and our goal is create these products at accessible price points allowing everyone access to healthy foods and, therefore, happiness. Every child deserves the best start in life.
"We try to create the most optimally nourishing foods for today's young families. Our emphasis is to create premium and innovative formulations using nature's best ingredients and true science to help us make decisions on how to grow baby's body.
"The first two years are critical in developing a taste profile and architecture, or blueprint, for how they experience, crave and appreciate food for the rest of their lives," says Visram. "If you can start them off with foods that that are truly healthy, that look, taste and smell great, they are more inclined to want them all their lives. That is the dream of all parents."
HappyFamily strives not only to use top quality and organic ingredients, "We add probiotics, DHA from a sustainable source [algae] to improve brain and eye function, choline to improve memory function, and they all come from natural sources," says Visram. All of cereals are made with whole grain, rather than white flour. "We are more than just organic, and try to push the envelope when it comes to nutrition."
50 moms across the country
"Since we are both moms, we drive ideation on product development; it's our maternal instincts," says Visram. "We think in terms of what we want to feed our children, the healthiest formulation, what would get us really excited if the product were available in a store."
"We have focus groups of moms, babies and toddlers (from a handful of participants to hundreds), who test all the flavors," says Rolph. "We have 50 moms across the country who work with us, and they are amazing. We call on them when we have ideas, send them samples and get their feedback."
Visram, Rolph, Marlow and Dr. Sears are the core of the R&D team. "We have a fantastic staff that moves the R&D process along, but it is all initiated through strong ideas and incorporating scientific knowledge in formulations," explains Visram. "Dr. Sears might suggest adding probiotics to cereal as the perfect method for getting probiotics into baby's daily diet. He then works with us to find the most beneficial strains. First the idea, then the science, and then we make it into a reality," she says.
Another consideration for the company is whether the product is truly needed in the market. "We don't want to create knock-offs. We try to create new value with our innovation, and, of course, it needs to be organic," emphasizes Rolph.
"There's always a process in place getting a product from ideation to online to ready to merchandise in stores," says Visram. Rolph says it usually takes 6-9 months from concept to execution to product launch. "Some are more complicated; it took us 16 months for HappySqueeze to come online," she says.