Seven years after she launched organic baby food brand Happy Family, founder and CEO Shazi Visram received a Mother’s Day gift that will be pretty hard to top: Yesterday, the Paris-based Groupe Danone acquired the company for over 90 percent equity interest. Happy Family gross sales total more than $60 million dollars.
Marketed as Dannon in the United States, Groupe Danone’s subsidiaries also include companies such as Evian water, Activia yogurt and Stonyfield Farm.
Like the toddlers who eat Happy Family’s nutrient-packed foods, sales in natural baby foods have been growing strong over the past few years. Organic baby food posted 30 percent growth in the natural channel during the 52 weeks ended June 9, 2012, according to SPINS, and Nutrition Business Journal estimated that the category will grow between 5 and 6 percent by 2016.
Much of this success is attributed to the development of the pouch delivery system. Squeezable, BPA-free and more environmentally friendly than glass, Happy Family has spearheaded this innovation by packing nutritious ingredients into the portable packs historically foreign in baby foods, such as coconut milk, mangosteen, kale and chia.
The days of strained peas and highly processed, brown mush are numbered.
Visram is excited to continue this type of smart innovation with Groupe Danone’s partnership, particularly because Danone has extensive research and development resources.
“We are thrilled, as this agreement will allow us to further our goal of providing organic nutrition to more children,” she said. “Having access to Danone's R&D facilities is so huge for Happy Family. Our research into both children's and adult's nutrition is going to be taken to the next level by working with Danone as our partner.”
Like most natural food companies, Happy Family started small and with a vision. But despite holding over four percent of the U.S. baby food market, the company has maintained its homegrown roots and philosophy of “enlightened nutrition.” It seems Happy Family is primed to continue it’s tangent of being one of the most trusted kid-nutrition food companies.
But that isn’t necessarily the case for all natural brands. During the months leading up to California’s Prop 37 initiative to label GMOs last year, some natural companies owned by large food conglomerates experienced backlash from their consumers, mostly due to the Cornucopia Institute creation of an infographic outlining donations for Prop 37. Companies, such as Larabar, Silk, Kashi and Bear Naked became caught in the crossfire, as their Big Food owners made ample donations against the initiative.
Will Danone’s acquisition dilute Happy Family’s values?
Not a chance, says Visram. “I consider my company to be my first baby, and one of the great things about this partnership is that I am still in charge, and the day-to-day really isn't going to change,” she says.
Take, for example, Stonyfield Farm. Although Danone technically owns the organic dairy company, it remains a stalwart supporter of local, organic ingredients, and is synonymous with non-GMO activism. The company’s founder, Gary Hirschberg, is still highly involved in the company, and is a huge driver of the Just Label It campaign.
Ultimately, the Danone-Happy Family partnership will bolster the values of both parties. “Danone cares about what we care about: changing the world through food,” concludes Visram.