When will QSR restaurants start selling branded (organic) baby food? And how young is too young for marketing food to children in our restaurants?
Both questions came to mind after meeting with Jessica Rolph, founding partner and COO of Happy Baby Foods (Nature Inc.) in Boise, Idaho, this week. Happy Baby Foods sales growth has been phenomenal since its inception a few short years ago – and it could be argued they are the second leading baby food company in the U.S. The primary point of differentiation is 100-percent organic, followed by packaging innovation and shelf-stable products. Jessica not only has a passion for great tasting baby food, but also its certified organic origins, and the caring filter of a mother with her own children's well-being.
Happy baby branding
What mother doesn't want a happy baby? The "Happy Family" of products includes food items for infants through tottlers – and uses terms to define their products like "Happy Bellies" cereals, Happy Munchies, frozen "Happy Bites", "Happy Puffs" snacks, and Happy Baby frozen meals, and HappyYogis yogurt dairy products, and Happy Baby Smoothies. And of course the products are NonGMO, gluten free, sustainable, and free of any pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals. In the end, Happy Babies, Happy Families, and Happy Mothers represent a marketing triangle for success.
Hello package innovation, goodbye baby food jars
One of the key product differentiators is the aseptic processed squeeze pouches that children love to hold, squeeze and suck, with twist top re-useable caps. In fact, Happy Baby Foods has trademarked the marketing term "Think Outside the Jar." The packaging is also BPA Free and sustainable. Like other modern day marketing successes, repositioning baby food in innovative packaging has been a recipe for success.
Another key to Happy Baby's success story, as well as their U.S. and international competitors is the focus on organic foods. Why Gerber was slow to the batter's box to hit organic baby food products out of the park is probably a lesson in the principles of food innovation. As I have stated numerous times before, food innovation is rarely identified in large corporations as it is in smaller entrepreneurial start-up companies – much like food trucks. Most large food company marketing departments are "risk adverse" and generally play it safe with new flavor line extensions.
Coming to a QSR restaurant near you
The only remaining question is when will a major restaurant chain like McDonalds or Chick-fil-A start selling branded baby food? I am convinced that baby food sales will take place in QSR restaurant chains; it is just a matter of when. I can envision marketing tie-ins with baby food instead of toys. Why not start building a bond with younger future customers?
In follow-up, Food Technical Consulting (www.foodbevbiz.com) has scheduled a 3-day industry workshop in Denver, Colorado on Sept. 10-12, 2012, on "Food Innovation Business Principles and Processes. Please contact me at email@example.com or 303-471-1443. A course manual will be available for sale to international small business operators who cannot attend.
Darrel Suderman, Ph.D., is president of Food Technical Consulting and founder of Food Innovation Institute. He has held senior R&D/QA leadership positions at KFC, Boston Market, Church's Chicken and Quiznos and led KFC’s development team of “Popcorn Chicken”, now a $1B international product –invented by Gene Gagliardi.