As Anne Laraway, the CEO and “Mom In Chief” of Happy Family Organics, steers her team through the many unexpected twists and turns in 2020, she says that flexibility is key. “It is not that different from raising kids,” she reflects. And the mission of Happy Family Organics – to change the trajectory of human health through nutrition – feels more relevant than ever.
A lot has happened this year, from the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to the upswell of racial justice activism following the murder of George Floyd. US GDP is down 9.5% year-on-year, and over 30 million Americans are receiving unemployment checks. 41% of mothers with kids under the age of 13 reported food insecurity.
Happy Family is the market leader for organic baby food in the United States, and Laraway takes their mission seriously. From supporting her staff to the wider community, she has focused on transparency, racial equity, and access to nutritious food. Here is how she is taking a values-first approach to leading.
Transparency with staff and partners
After the lockdown started due to the coronavirus pandemic, Happy Family Organics experienced an 88% growth in e-commerce in the first half of 2020. This has meant maintaining transparency with her staff and retail partners in the midst of a rapidly changing environment.
“Communication to our team is so important right now. You don’t realize how much information is communicated when in the office together. We have tried to make sure that I am communicating as regularly as possible. When we may be coming back to the office, our guidelines around travel, and of course this is all changing regularly. It has been important for me to be open about what I know and what I don’t, what information I am working on gathering,” says Laraway.
She continues, “We have also focused on increasing communication to our customers. We instituted a bi-weekly communication to all retail partners and have been getting great feedback on how we are providing insights into where we are with our supply chain and other aspects of our business. The shift to e-commerce likely will not change, and we will continue to ensure that we are there with the right products and servicing those channels appropriately.”
Happy Family Organics was started by Shazi Visram in 2003. As a woman of color and an activist, acceptance and diversity were foundational, core values for the business. Recognizing that the most food insecure children in the US are Black and Latino, the company has focused efforts in those areas.
Laraway explains that, “The BIPOC community is disproportionately impacted by food deserts and as a food company, we realize it is our responsibility to find ways to support the families in these areas… Moving forward, we are directing future meal and snack donations to food deserts across the US, which are areas with limited access to affordable, nutritious foods.”
She adds, “Strengthening what we’ve built involves strengthening who we are, and we believe that impactful change starts from within. In recent weeks, our team has come together to update our commitments to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion…We are also making a longer-term commitment to support the anti-racism movement by developing partnerships with Black-led organizations working to make systemic, positive changes in our country for the BIPOC community. We know there is so much work to be done and that we have a role to play in creating long-lasting change.”
Access to nutritious, organic food for all
Beyond philanthropy, Happy Family Organics developed a WIC-authorized product that families on food stamps can access. They call this program Making Organic Accessible for All. It is particularly relevant today as one in four moms report having had a salary or wage cut since the onset of COVID-19. The financial burden is heavier on lower income households. Those with incomes under $50 thousand dollars a year are nearly three times more likely to have a salary or wage cut than households earning over $125 thousand dollars a year, according to the BabyCenter COVID-19 Impact Study from June 2020.
“54.9% of WIC participants, over 3.7 million parents and children – now have access to our organic food,” explains Laraway. “During the pandemic, more states are expanding their offerings and making organic baby food WIC-approved under a temporary waiver. We are currently available under waiver in Maryland, D.C., Nevada, Tennessee, and Washington.”
In addition, the company is expanding its commitment to sustainable ingredient sourcing in an effort that is focused on regenerative farming. Since 2013 they have sourced 157.2 million pounds of organic and regenerative produce. These are efforts that Laraway is doubling down on during the pandemic. She says, “it can be easy to lose sight of sustainability during a crisis, but it is critical to our mission. You can’t provide healthy food for kids without providing a healthy world for them to live in.”
In conclusion – flexibility, flexibility, flexibility
Weathering 2020 overall has been a game of flexibility for Laraway, which she realizes is a great privilege to have. She is practicing patience and forgiveness with herself, and her kids. “I have a 2.5 year old and a 5 year old. My husband and I are working full time, and balancing life with my parents. I have been clear to my team that we have to be flexible. Things come up, and kids have needs. I have been interrupted by my kids in the middle of important meetings, needing help going to the bathroom. In a way, it has humanized me and my team.”