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How a grassroots effort revolutionized baby food

A Q&A with Shazi Visram, founder and CEO of Happy Family 

By Rachel Cieri 

If a grocery store worker asked you to sample baby food, chances are you’d wrinkle your nose and walk away.

“There’s this association with baby food tasting bad,” explains Shazi Visram, founder and CEO of Happy Family. “The jar had been around since the 1930s with no focus on nutrition or quality, more on convenience and a cheap price point.” When she founded her company in 2006, she made it her mission to give parents an alternative to feeding sickening mush to their children.

After struggling to connect with consumers in the frozen space, she hit it big with an innovative dry cereal, the first-ever organic puffs and yogurt snacks, and the true alternative to the jar — the pouch. Seven years later, Visram, wife of Joe and mom of Zane, is an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year with a $63 million health food empire expanding its offerings to toddlers, kids and grown-ups, too.

In May, Happy Family announced a deal with Visram’s “dream acquirer,” Danone. “Happy Family will benefit from the expertise of a major international group, in particular for distribution and its renowned R&D capabilities,” Visram said in a statement.

Q: How are your products different from other baby foods?

We target the needs of today’s generation of infants, and now toddlers and kids. We revolutionized the cereal space with the introduction of Happy Bellies, a probiotic and DHA cereal that also has choline and prebiotics. They mimic the probiotics found in breast milk, and they’re meant to defend the antidevelopment of food allergies, asthma and eczema, which are what’s now plaguing our generation — which was not an issue 50 years ago.

Q: Adults eat your products, too?

The pouch allows for a high-quality food to be minimally processed, so it tastes good and it comes in this convenient format. We’ve had people say, “I take these with me on my runs.” We have adult friends who have been eating their kids’ pouches for the longest time. My husband’s best friend’s name is Todd, and they have two toddlers in the house. His wife will buy two cases of our Happy Tots a week, and it turns out Todd eats like 20 of them. They’ve renamed them Happy Todd. This was a great opportunity to offer enlightened alternatives to products that sell en masse but are not actually the best for our bodies.

Q: How do you reach the masses?

Our Happy Mamas just started as friends of ours. We said, hey, would you do a sampling for us because it would be so much more meaningful coming from you. It requires the right kind of person to get somebody interested in coming over to try some baby food. It quickly evolved into this organized marketing structure within our business. They’re our health and wellness ambassadors across the country. They do demonstrations like how to make your baby food, they do samplings of our own foods and they speak with pediatricians about the availability of our foods. They do a lot of local events, basically educating the population. We’re not a brand that’s established just to push product; it’s established to push a lifestyle, health and wellness, and to give parents the information they need to make the best choices for their families.

Q: When you launched, this was a novel concept. How do you handle the spate of competitors on the scene today?

It’s the purity of purpose. We have supportive investors who believe in what we are doing for not only the potential economic value but for the social return as well. I can be as innovative as I want and not be constrained by the fact that the salba, [a nutritious grain we use], is very expensive. By supplementing our foods with it, it decreases our margins. If I were owned by a private equity company, which many of our competitors are, they might say you can’t do that. We have the insight of real moms who care. CEO

Contact us at editorial@smartceo.com.

This article was originally published in the June/July issue of New York SmartCEO magazine.

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