Get to Know Shazi Visram, Founder & CEO of Happy Family
Shazi Visram is the founder and CEO of Happy Family Brands, the first U.S. brand to offer a complete line of nutritious foods for babies, toddlers and, kids, and prenatal supplements for mothers. She is also a mom to two young children.
Read more to learn about Visram and her journey to success, her newly launched cookbook "The Happy Family Organic Superfoods Cookbook For Baby & Toddler," and more in this exclusive MAKERS interview.
Q: Explain your philosophy "Enlightened Nutrition." What are the steps you take to ensure your products are nutritious for babies?
A: Enlightened nutrition means that we optimize our recipes with the best ingredients nature has to offer for each age and stage of development. It also means empowering parents by being completely transparent about our recipes and providing them with the knowledge they need to make their best decisions for their baby.
Q: After getting the idea to create more nutritious baby food from a friend, what were the initial steps you took to see the idea for Happy Family Brands come into fruition?
A: I spoke to almost a 100 more Moms and confirmed that they were eager for something premium organic and new. I started trialing recipes in my tiny Brooklyn galley kitchen and wrote a business plan. I also started networking like crazy in the industry and began raising seed money to launch a small operation in NYC.
Q: Describe some of the challenges you overcame to build Happy Family Brands.
A: In the early days money was always tight, particularly because our first product launch wasn’t exactly a home run. We launched with a line of frozen baby food in Gourmet Garage in New York and despite the hours spent hanging out in the store doing tastings and directing Moms to the freezer aisle it didn’t take off. Moms weren’t looking for baby food in the freezer, something that we hadn’t considered when we were doing our research. During this stage Joe, my husband, would play pool tournaments to win a couple hundred bucks to get us through the month, it was tough. We didn’t give up though, pivoted our strategy and undertook extensive innovation in dry foods until we saw the beauty of and pioneered pouches as an alternative to the jar. They were a huge success so Joe was able to retire from his amateur pool career.
Q: What is your favorite “Happy Family Brand” product and why?
A: I love our Clearly Crafted line, not only is it beautiful — on shelf it makes the most stunning rainbow — but it is the realization of something that I have been wanting to do forever. Transparency is super important at Happy and to be able to let Moms see what is inside our pouches is the logical extension of our commitment to Mom to provide the best most nutritious food for her baby.
Q: Briefly describe your involvement with UNICEF's Project Peanut Butter.
A: Project Peanut Butter was the first organization we ever partnered with, now we work with several. When I was starting Happy Family I wanted to be able to give back from the very beginning and started looking for a partner to help us do so. I chose Project Peanut Butter as I wanted to help children globally as well as in the USA. From our very first product sold we have contributed a percentage of our sales to help address childhood starvation. We are now so proud of the many partnerships we have created to serve children's health.
Q: How has your father influenced your desire to fund The Children's Village in Tanzania?
A: My father was born in Tanzania and grew up with very little. He was lucky to have the opportunities he did, which eventually brought him to the USA. He never forgot how lucky he was and instilled in me the importance of gratefulness and also the necessity of giving back. When my father died I wanted to do something to honor his memory and providing children in Tanzania who haven’t had the luck he had with the opportunity to overcome their circumstances seemed like a perfect fit to honor his memory.
Q: What is your vision and hope for the orphanage?
A: I hope that through our help the community, which is primarily women and children, can become healthy, happy participating citizens who have the ability to impact their country, and also our world for the better. The aim is to provide long-term assistance to support them to reach their full potential.
Q: Where are your parents from? What risks did they take immigrating?
A: My father was from Tanzania and my mother was born in Pakistan. They first immigrated to the UK and then Canada with the hope of starting a family that would have a safe and secure future. My mother was qualified as a doctor in Pakistan and ran her own practice. Leaving that behind was a risk but one she thought was worth it, she was hopeful that she would be able to practice in Toronto. Unfortunately when she arrived she realized that her qualifications didn’t transfer like for like and she didn’t have the money to qualify there. But my Mom is a determined woman and despite this set back started working as a nurse and thinking of other ways to secure the future for her children...That’s how we ended up in Alabama.
Q: What was your childhood like? Growing up what were your dreams and aspirations and why?
A: We moved from Toronto to Birmingham, Ala., when I was very young and I spent my formative years living in our motel. My dreams varied from becoming a ninja female wrestler to neurosurgeon, to artist. Ultimately I learned that whatever I did would have to have a social component or I couldn't feel good pouring my heart and soul into it.
Q: What was the most valuable thing you learned at Columbia’s Business School?
A: Columbia is a truly great place where amazing things can happen if you throw yourself headlong into the opportunity. I was introduced to an extensive network of support there and without those connections starting Happy would have been almost impossible. It is so important to value these relationships, not always taking but offering support to others when you can, that’s how entrepreneurship grows.
Q: What is the most surprising thing you learned as a mother?
A: How little your own desires matter once you become a mom. I mean that in the way that Zane's happiness is priority number one and that I would do absolutely anything for him, he is the most important thing in my life.
Q: Do you have any future plans or goals you would like to accomplish?
A: My life's work is to protect our children and give them all the most optimal lives possible. Continuing activism for autism prevention, infant health, and environmental protection could fill all of my days.
Q: If you can give a young woman one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
A: Take risks and use your intuition, it's usually right, and when it isn’t it’s better to ask for forgiveness than asking for permission. I got where I am today by being bold, independent and confident in my ability to succeed, taking risks that others would have shut down as foolhardy. I guess I could sum it up as don’t be afraid to fail.
Q: Why is it important for food brands to practice better transparency practices and how is Happy Family tackling the subject?
A: Increasingly we are all looking for openness and honesty from the companies that we buy products from. Informed decision making in the grocery store is on the rise as people look to avoid harmful chemicals and toxins and to know not only how their food is made but why. As a food brand it is really important to help people do this so they can make the best choices for themselves and their families. At Happy we have always valued transparency and after years of development we just launched Clearly Crafted, the industry's first see through pouch to allow parents to see exactly what they are getting. We also give the exact recipe on each pouch and have created a website HappyFarms.com, so that customers can learn about each “farm-to-pouch” story from our suppliers.
Q: Happy Family celebrated its 10-year anniversary this Mother's Day, congratulations! What have you learned in the past 10 years of running the business and what are your goals for the next 10?
A: I've learned that you really can change the world in 10 years with a big vision and a strong team. We have helped develop the market for organic baby food from 4 percent to now almost 30 percent and that's amazing. Over the next 10 years we will continue to pioneer the movement to focus on our children's health, optimizing the first 1000 days of life and supporting mom's health. We are also dedicated to doing everything we possibly can to create awareness around how our environment and the choices we make as parents determine the health outcomes of our children.
Check out her cookbook below.