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Happy Wolf feeds kids convenient whole foods—no compromises

Between winning a NEXTY Award and debuting its products at Natural Products Expo East 2023, Happy Wolf had an eventful month this past September. Here's what's next for this organic brand.

Melaina Juntti

November 21, 2023

7 Min Read
Jana Goodbaum and Derek Beigleman of Happy Wolf

Like so many incredible natural products brands, Happy Wolf Snacks was born out of an everyday consumer’s dissatisfaction with the marketplace’s offerings and their determination to deliver better options.

“I’m a mom of two hungry toddlers and was always on the hunt for kid-friendly snacks that were nutritious and made from simple, whole, minimally processed ingredients,” says Jana Goodbaum, co-founder of Happy Wolf. “I also needed nut-free snacks to pack for my kids’ nursery school and daycare. I couldn’t understand why all the school-safe snacks I found were mostly carbs and sugar and contained weird ingredients that I never used at home.”

At first, the Toronto-based marketing professional experimented with different recipes for homemade bars and energy balls.

“But as a busy working mom, I needed a convenient option for the days and weeks—and, let’s be honest, months—where I didn’t have time to make something from scratch,” Goodbaum says. “My vision was to create school-safe snacks that kids loved and parents felt great serving their kids, using exactly the same ingredients I used at home.”

For help, she called up old friend and fellow frustrated parent Derek Beigleman. Together, they developed a line of allergen-free, organic, non-GMO, clean-label snack bars made entirely from scratch, entirely of whole foods. Oh, and they taste darn delicious, too.

“We worked super hard to deliver on that vision, with no compromises or sacrifices whatsoever,” Goodbaum says. “That’s why our bars ended up being refrigerated. We quickly learned that for our bars to be shelf stable, we would’ve had to compromise on our ingredients or add preservatives.”

Goodbaum and Beigleman launched Happy Wolf officially in early September, selling directly to consumers online and debuting at Pop Up Grocer and Bonberi Mart in New York. Later that month, the duo exhibited at Natural Products Expo East 2023, where the Happy Wolf Apple Cinnamon Fridge-Fresh Bar took home the NEXTY Award for Best New Special Diet Food.

We caught up with Goodbaum in mid-October to learn more about this emerging brand’s roots and where it’s headed next.

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Prior to Happy Wolf, did either of you have any food industry experience?

Jana Goodbaum: I previously led marketing communications for Tim Hortons, Canada’s largest coffee brand, so I have a background in food and a lot of experience building and nurturing a brand. When it came to Happy Wolf, I knew what type of brand I wanted to build and what type of products I wanted to make, but I had no idea how to make them. That’s where Derek comes in.

Derek is one of my longtime friends. He co-founded Open Farm, a premium pet food company that really raised the bar in the industry. He became an expert at managing co-manufacturers, ingredient suppliers, logistics, operations, you name it, for a rapidly growing CPG brand.

Derek and his wife, Deb, are also health-conscious parents of two little ones, so he really saw the gap that I was describing in his own household as well. He saw the opportunity to once again raise the bar in an industry that needed better options.

Happy Wolf is USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified and Clean Label Project Certified. Why did you pursue these third-party certifications?

JG: We wanted a quick way to demonstrate that we are serious about our mission to make it easier to feed kids better and offer parents convenience without compromise.

Clean Label certification means our products are tested for heavy metals, pesticides like glyphosates and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. These are issues I worry about when feeding my kids, and I wanted to make sure we could alleviate those worries and bring comfort to parents who buy our products for their families. Parents have enough to worry about!

Your bars contain added sugar, which many consumers try to avoid. What led to this decision?

JG: “No added sugar” is a claim that has really taken over the wellness world, especially when it comes to snacks marketed to kids, which for so long were mostly full of sugar. We tried tons of recipes that didn’t include any added sugar, and frankly, kids just didn’t like the taste enough.

Then I had an epiphany. I realized that when I bake for my kids at home, or when I want to sweeten up their oatmeal in the morning, I don’t use refined sugar. I add a high-quality honey or maple syrup. We decided to use honey in our bars because it is minimally processed but adds the sweetness kids want. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how “healthy” a product is if your kid won’t eat it!

Many new better-for-you brands choose “natural” sweeteners like monk fruit, inulin, chicory root fiber or tapioca syrup. We considered going this route, but then we learned about these ingredients and how they were made. It became clear that, for the most part, they are heavily processed powders and syrups—very far from the original whole ingredient. Research also suggests that many natural sweeteners can be hard to digest, especially for little ones.

We know we can’t please everyone, but sweetening with honey is true to how I feed my kids at home in my own kitchen, which is exactly where the idea for the Happy Wolf brand originated.

Since launching in September, how have you built brand awareness and enticed consumers to try your bars?

JG: We sent product to influencers we admire in the kids’ nutrition space, and we have been really excited to see how much the product is resonating. Influencers are reaching out to us, trying to get their hands on these bars for their kids.

There has clearly been a lack of innovation in this space, and so many parents are missing ultraclean school-safe snacks. The parents who are hyper-focused on giving their kids real, whole foods are the most excited when they find Happy Wolf, and they have certainly been spreading the word.

Can you please outline your growth trajectory so far?

JG: We’ve been astonished by the success of our D2C sales. We’ve shipped thousands of orders over the past six weeks, and many customers have ordered three or four times in this short timeframe, which we think is a great sign.

How big is your team?

JG: We’re a small but mighty team of four. Derek and I recently hired two wonderful employees who both wear many hats.

What was it like to win the NEXTY Award for Best New Special Diet Food?

JG: Winning a NEXTY, especially so early in our brand’s journey, is so meaningful for us. We have so much respect for New Hope as an organization, and it means everything to be recognized by them as innovators in our category.

What has this entire ride—launching and growing a brand—been like so far?

JG: We are at the very beginning still, so the ride has barely started. But so far, it’s been an incredible learning experience. It was very scary making the decision to quit my corporate job and go all in on building Happy Wolf, but I haven’t regretted it for a minute! The best part is seeing more and more kids enjoying Happy Wolf bars and hearing praise from parents who have been searching for snacks like ours.

What’s next for Happy Wolf?

JG: Our goal is to grow our retail footprint to make it more convenient and accessible for new customers to try Happy Wolf. We want parents to discover us during their regular grocery run and bring a box home for their kids to try, instead of having to take a chance and order online in bulk.

We see many opportunities to continue to raise the bar on kids’ snacks. We started with bars because they were by far the most popular snack for toddlers and kids, so it’s where we felt we could have the most impact. But hopefully, this is just the beginning!

About the Author(s)

Melaina Juntti

Melaina Juntti is a longtime freelance journalist, copy editor and marketing professional. With nearly two decades of experience in the natural products industry, she is a frequent contributor to Nutrition Business Journal, Natural Foods Merchandiser and NewHope.com. Melaina is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and is passionate about hiking, camping, fishing and live music. 

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