Never mess with a mom on a mission.
A number of years back, Shazi Visram was disturbed at the limited options available to mothers looking for healthy, quality, affordable food for their infant children and toddlers. For Visram, the absolute lack of access for low-income mothers was also especially alarming. She observed the negative repercussions of food deserts, particularly in urban areas, and was dismayed that baby food options were limited to the same mass-produced, marginally nutritious choices available to families in the 1940s.
Not one to leave a problem unsolved, Visram, a graduate of Columbia University Business School, did what came naturally to her as a budding entrepreneur – she innovated to solve the problem and created Happy Family, Inc., a social enterprise. She knew that nutrition in a child’s life was critical and in 2003 began creating a small business to address that very need.
Visram understood that the path to creating the social impact she sought was not just making a high-quality product for families seeking the best for their children, but also making it accessible and affordable to families that would not ordinarily choose organic, specialty foods because of the higher prices associated with those products. True to that mission, she made strategic decisions that would maintain high product quality, but also make it possible to keep prices competitive. Visram’s new product line was rolled out by five small neighborhood grocery stores in New York City, where urban families could access the products.
Today, Happy Family, Inc. has become a thriving business with product distribution in 13,000 retail stores across the country. Happy Family is selling high-quality, socially responsible, organic baby food to families across the country. Visram is especially proud that Happy Family products are available in bodegas in a number of urban markets across the country.
Happy Family’s rapid expansion has been fueled by critical support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as part of the foundation’s mission driven investment (MDI) portfolio.
“It has been phenomenal to have the support of the Kellogg Foundation, an organization that shares a socially minded agenda that includes creating better health outcomes for children and families,” said Visram. “The foundation’s support has enabled us to maintain control over the company’s idea of success and make decisions that we’re proud of.”
From the start, Visram recognized that access was key. After all – how can you help improve the nutritional well-being of infants and toddlers if their mothers don’t have the access or the budget to purchase it?
That’s why Happy Family successfully fought for designation under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) in California and is actively pursuing that designation in states across the country. With deep economic and employment troubles plaguing the nation, children and families are falling through society’s cracks on a daily basis. The WIC designation allows Happy Family’s products to reach the children who need it – regardless of financial circumstance.
Visram and Happy Family have also created grassroots communities of support for mothers in more than two dozen states through its HappyMamas program. The program offers peer support for mothers on nutrition and health matters, and uses social tools like Facebook and Twitter in addition to face-to-face interactions in community gathering places.
With Happy Family firmly planted on the map, it would be easy for Visram to rest on her laurels – In 2012 Happy Family was named a “Rock Star of the New Economy” by Fast Company – and contentedly focus on sustaining Happy Family’s success. But for Visram and those who support her company, like the Kellogg Foundation, they know that until healthy, delicious and nutrient-rich food choices are the norm for children and families of all socio-economic backgrounds, there’s plenty more work to be done.