When entrepreneurs Shazi Visram and Jessica Rolph launched Happy Family Brands in 2006, their mission to make organic baby food available and affordable struck a chord with consumers. In the ensuing period, the company has grown rapidly and was acquired by Danone in 2013.

Happy Family, with product lines such as Happy Baby, has been a pioneer in the industry, adding probiotics and age-appropriate enlighten ingredients to its products. In addition it also has been an innovator in its packaging. Happy Family was an early adopter of spouted flexible pouches, a move that changed the dynamics of the baby food market. This year, Happy Family introduced a clear pouch that allows consumers to see the product within.  

One person who was among the earliest employees is John Tansey, VP of operations. Tansey will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Global Pouch West conference to be held Dec. 7-8 in Las Vegas. In a recent interview, he sat down with our sister magazine, Brand Packaging, to discuss developments at Happy Family and his role in their operations.

John, can you describe your role at Happy Family?

My role at Happy Family is to be accountable for the successful operations of the business. To do that, it takes changing from day to day. I try to adapt to the day-to-day needs of our team, and make sure I am driving the direction of our organization in a way that is complementary to our values.

What types of factors influence packaging decisions at Happy Family?

We always consider quality first. Production capabilities such as who can do what, whether it’s inside our network or within the scope of food science; these are really big drivers. Also, sustainability is a core tenet of how we make decisions in our business. The rest of it is customer-driven. We look at the habits and demands of customers. In many of our foods, it’s convenience. Does the packaging travel well? Is it easy to open or carry? And how does it look on shelf? Does it pop? Does it look good for you? Trying to convey the nutrition value also is really important to us.

How do the customers let you know what they want in their product and packaging?

We do market testing. We do track trends through third parties, whether through market initiatives, testing, or using major market reports such as Mintel’s. Sometimes an employee has an “aha” moment while watching a child playing with something. Design thinking is about being empathetic with your consumers, observing them and asking them questions to understand their needs. You can put something out there that you think is great, but if it is not fulfilling the needs or solving the problems of the consumer, it won’t be noticed.

Has Happy Family used pouches since the inception of the business?

Yes, the original tagline for Happy Family Baby was “Think outside the jar.” The idea was that we are an emerging brand that is challenging the conventions of the market, focusing on the nutrition and changing values to connect with moms in a different way.

How do you feel customers perceive baby food in pouches versus other types of packaging?

At this point, pouches have become ubiquitous in baby food, so the format has come to be expected. Consumers are shopping specifically for the spouted pouch. While I don’t have specific information on baby food in jars, we have seen the use of glass drop over the last several years. Spouted pouches continue to grow at an incredible rate.

Is Happy Family changing to shelf-ready packaging to accommodate pouches on retail shelves?

We have a project that we are interested in to use rails on the shelf. It would be great to remove the inner shipping container to have the product sit on rails. We think it would allow us to remove waste and cost, which would be a sustainable solution that would add more appeal.  However, these shippers are so engrained in the market. It’s a huge project that may be a long way away.

Happy Family places an emphasis on the organic product in its branding. How does the packaging support that messaging?

Flexible packaging has sustainable components. It is lighter, it travels better. There is less downstream waste product when it goes to landfills, but in the end, it’s still packaging. Flexible packaging is a multilayer film that’s not recyclable. It requires a lot of energy to produce. I actually think that at times packaging and packaged goods don’t complement organics. What we try to do is bring “enlightened nutrition” that is a value-add not meant as a substitute, but an on-the-go solution. When you view it as a supplement for fresh organic food, it starts to make more sense. In that case you have the benefits of using flexible packaging instead of other packaging formats. It’s something we are conscious of every day.

How important is the spout to the pouch?

It’s absolutely critical. That is where the convenience is for the consumer. Without the spout, you have a significantly different product. It’s an alternative to a jar, but it doesn’t provide the same solution a spouted pouch does. With a spouted pouch, a child can feed themselves from the spout as early as nine or 10 months on.

Are the pouch sizes meant to be single servings?

They are intended as single servings. That’s how the nutritional labeling is done. In some instances, the product is not used in a single serving, but you can put the cap back on, put it in the refrigerator, and it’s good for up to 24 hours.

In March 2016, Happy Family launched a transparent, spouted pouch called Clearly Crafted. What has been the significance of that launch?

The greatest significance behind the Clearly Crafted launch is our commitment to full transparency. Today’s consumers, especially parents, are increasingly concerned about the nutritional content of their food and want to know where ingredients are sourced from. Featured on the back of our Clearly Crafted pouches is an invitation to visit HappyFarms.com, where parents can learn more about our farming partners and the places that supply our ingredients. We also list our exact recipe on the back of each pouch so that parents can easily understand the increased inclusions of premium fruits and vegetables. We’re proud to share our product details from start to finish. And, obviously, the transparency of the actual package allows consumers to see the exact color and texture of our purees.

So, does the color of the content contribute to the consumer’s view as to whether the product is fresh or not?

We listened to our consumers who have said they’d love to see what’s exactly in the pouch before they feed it to their babies. Especially in light of so many recent recalls, we give parents peace of mind that our food is fresh. And frankly, the vibrancy of the colors look amazing! Happy Baby is the first national brand to offer fully transparent baby food pouches with premium, organic ingredients you can see.

Does this have a more positive effect on sustainability and climate change than previous packaging?

We’ve focused on the supply chain with this product. Climate change is one of the biggest issues impacting the future of our planet.  It’s impacting crop cycles and huge populations of people. Its impact on the ecosystem as a whole is more massive than anything we can think of. What we’ve really tried to do is go deeper into the supply chain to understand the practices of the farmers. It’s another step to onsite, auditing the farms and understanding their practices of regenerative farming and making longer term relationships with the farm families. That was really the drive behind the Clearly Crafted product line.  It’s more than just being able to see what’s in the pouch; it’s making an effort to be more transparent and show we care more.

Since Happy Family does not own its own manufacturing facilities, how do you ensure consistency and quality among co-packers?

Quality is most important to us. We see our quality team as the leaders of our operations team. They are the ones driving continuous improvement. They are the ones driving the systems and processes. It has been a product of investing early and heavily in quality.