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COPING WITH FAILURE

My Unexpected Path to Success
 

Happy Baby founder Shazi Visram's first product launch was an absolute dud. When she looked closer, she found the fundamental problem (and a better strategy for growth).

Happy Family CEO Shazi Visram with her son Zane.

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We launched Happy Family on Mother's Day 2006 with a grand vision: to provide moms with a healthful alternative to overly processed food in jars. 

With the technology available at the time and a limited budget, we set out to change the world in a seemingly odd place: the freezer. We started with Happy Baby, our first line of frozen, heat-and-serve organic baby food.

But soon after the product was in stores, we realized we weren’t getting any real traction. 

The reason? Well, it was the freezers.

While I was doing demos in stores, I began noticing how moms shopped. I’d stand near the freezers with a set table --little spoons and all--our brightly colored foods on display, stopping anyone with a young child. But I got very little traffic. I noticed that most moms simply weren't shopping for their little ones in the freezer aisle. So, I moved my demo table as close to the "baby aisle" as I could get. 

I knew from our research that moms did actually love our product, but we had a major challenge to overcome if we wanted to get frozen baby food in Mom's hand. The bottom line: Our consumers shopped the jarred baby food aisle, and we were in a different part of the store.

In addition, I realized that our customers (more familiar with jarred baby food) would have to learn how to use our product if they weren't yet familiar with homemade baby food.

My heart sank.

Starting Again

Obviously, it was disappointing at first, but setback breeds innovation, and we quickly shifted our focus to innovating in the shelf-stable aisle. We then had the idea to launch the first ever probiotic cereal for babies, Happy Bellies, a true revolution for digestive health. It started to fly. Then we launched the first ever organic melt-in-your-mouth puff snack for babies, our beloved Happy Puffs.

And, it was finally beginning to look like the business I had originally envisioned when we stumbled upon the true alternative to the jar: the pouch. And now we had distribution and brand loyalty.

We went back to our original idea of thinking outside the jar, and the result was the Happy Baby pouches--which is our signature product today. Moms loved the portability of the pouches, and the innovative packaging encouraged their little ones to explore self-feeding. Not only was the format inventive, but also we raised the bar on ingredients, being the first company to offer kids' products enriched with rich, essential nutrients (such as choline for brain and eye development and the supergrain Salba). Lastly, the carbon footprint of our products was just 10 percent of the footprint of food sold in the typical glass jar. 

Pouches were suddenly flying off shelves, and parents were clamoring for additional Happy Family products, which led to the creation of a full line of family-friendly meals and snacks, including Happy Tot pouches and Happy Munchies, to name two. 

Mistakes Lead to Payoff

As a result of our willingness to change course and adapt to the market, the Happy Family brand has expanded from those first few stores in New York to more than 17,000 stores nationwide, including Target and Whole Foods Market. Our products are also sold online at Amazon.com and Diapers.com.

We've grown from $115,000 in revenue to $35 million in 2011, with amazing growth so far this year. Had you asked me six years ago, I'm not sure I would have anticipated having to change direction quite so early on.

Looking back, I am so grateful that we were able to be so nimble, shifting our entire to-market strategy on a dime and figuring out how to deliver on the original promise in a big way. We made a big change, but our goal is still the same: to provide babies everywhere with the best, most nutritious organic foods.

IMAGE: Courtesy Company
Last updated: Aug 18, 2012

SHAZI VISRAM is the founder and CEO of HAPPYFAMILY, the leading premium brand of baby and toddler meals in the U.S. HAPPYFAMILY is sold in over 13,000 stores with 9 different lines of optimally delicious organic foods.
@shaziv




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