The Happy Snack Company® (THSC), based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, manufactures healthy snacks from chickpeas and fava beans.
Using a design-led mindset and practices, it has achieved extraordinary growth in less than 10 years. This Case Study unpacks how they did it and the results achieved.
Their journey, as told by their Managing Director, Craig Agnew in an interview, has been mapped against a generic Design Process Model.
THE BUSINESS CHALLENGE
I had a hunch, when I took over the company, that the snacks solved an unmet need. They were nutritionally dense, free from gluten, nuts, dairy and eggs, and sustainably grown. Allergenicity was on the up, and there was an increasing trend for healthy living and making ethical choices.
So why weren’t we selling more?
And what was I going to do about it?
Ensure the right problem is being solved and then solving it in the best way possible.
“First, we had to understand the consumer. Having a hunch that our snack would appeal, is diﬀerent to actually knowing it! We needed to understand who they were, what motivated them and when they might buy.
Until we knew that, we couldn’t move forward with any conﬁdence, with any aspect of our business.”
Make sure you understand the needs, wants and desires of your customer or end-user at the deepest level possible to ensure you are solving their unmet needs.
“We undertook market and consumer insight research
It identiﬁed a clear consumer desire for a new healthier wholefood treat that promised a delicious eating experience with chocolate, similar to Maltesers, but ‘better for you’’ ensuring consumers don’t feel guilty.
It also showed that we could tap into the trend towards ‘lighter enjoyment’ whereby consumers want that indulgent moment, later in the day. To date, we had only been focusing on a snacking window of morning or afternoon tea.
There was nothing we could see in the market that was using a wholefood as the main ingredient, was free from all declared allergens, and nutritionally superior in terms of reduced saturated fat, quite low in sugar yet higher in protein and ﬁbre to ﬁll you up.
We visited these consumers at Food Allergy Trade Shows, and it’s extremely clear that a young child just starting school who faces these allergies is emotionally very vulnerable – they’re excluded. It’s a big emotional challenge for the family. So, we knew that framing our proposition around designing for that big unmet need was at our core, and they would be our core consumer. But, and this is a big ‘but’, that consumer group alone was not big enough to build a sustainable business around.
We identiﬁed peripheral consumer groups that would be more interested in the superior nutritional aspect – sports and ﬁtness enthusiasts, health conscious Mums looking to balance taste, nutrition and convenience, plus a growing number of vegetarians and vegans. We identiﬁed that although our market penetration had been with families and children, there was a generation of millennials who had little experience with roasted chickpeas and fava beans. They wanted healthy but they also wanted adult indulgence – accepting chocolate coated would reduce any perceived barriers to purchase.
By segmenting all our consumers, we understood that they were roughly 40% of the Australian population. Now, was something we could build a business around
And as we did more research around the world, 90% of the consumer data was the same, and 90% of the design issues that we were trying to solve – the right messaging, packaging, brand – were also relevant in the UK, so that enabled us to have the minimum amount of disruption.”
Generate innovative ideas to help solve those needs and desires. Take the best idea and pursue further to ﬁnd the most feasible for the company, most viable commercially and most desirable to the customer.
“We now had clarity on what the product needed to be, and set about thinking how we could do it.
Then we had a communication design challenge. How do we create a common design style that highlights the key emotional objectives for those consumer groups?
We also wanted to convey that snacking should be exciting. It should be interesting. It should be a celebration. Most safe food products are boring and tasted terrible! We wanted to communicate to them that their needs can be met with this brand.
Our packaging needed to communicate those messages, as did other forms of communication, our digital channels for example.”
Take the best idea and turn it into a realistic outcome so that it can be tested and critiqued so that any ﬂaws can be identiﬁed and re-designed. The ﬁnal prototype is tested and validated.
“We sampled the consumer base, asking questions and exploring the unmet needs. We did focus groups, qualitative and quantitative research – there are excellent organisations that do that in this country.
We presented the product concept range to the major supermarket buyers. We were able to talk conﬁdently to them about the insight into the consumer base that we had gained, the growth trend of that market and why there was incremental opportunity for them.”
Use what we have learned about the customer to inform how we proceed.
“By fully understanding our the consumer it drove every decision we then made. It informed our:
BUSINESS MODEL DESIGN
We were able to assess whether we had the right business model, with the right people, with the right skills, to deliver what we know we needed.
We brought the ambitions for the company together in one place – a Vision Document – to make sure that we were all singing from the same song sheet.
It led us to reconsider our company brand. We now knew that our existing Partner Foods brand (that the business had started with) wasn’t going to convey the messages we needed it to. A Brand Strategy was created, with our unique visual assets trademarked globally.
We were able to identify the right R&D partner that could help us make allergen free chocolate, with the right ﬂavour and consistency that will appeal to the consumer we had identiﬁed.
Specialist chocolate processing expertise such as conching and panning the allergen dairy-free chocolate, was not available for us to access in Australia (it is held within existing commercial confectionery manufacturers).
With FIAL’s help we brought capability into the business from Italy, home of confectionery manufacturing. Vital knowledge transfer and staﬀ training was also provided, and advice on the right equipment to buy.
ADVANCED MANUFACTURING INVESTMENT
Adopting new advanced manufacturing technologies and processes felt like the right thing to do, but now we were sure that it made sense for our operation. Courtesy of our R&D collaboration we knew which capital we had to buy, to deliver the impact we wanted. We had conﬁdence that we were spending our FIAL grant money wisely!
We were able to commit signiﬁcant resources to expanding our existing manufacturing facility at Landsborough, Sunshine Coast. We knew what the optimum design layout should now be for the factory and were even able to streamline production on the factory ﬂoor, taking 150 metres of process movements away.
The expansion allowed us to manufacture the chocolate coated chickpea in volumes necessary to supply Coles, Woolworths and commence export market trials.
Put simply, we now knew that we were creating a new product range, with ﬂavour and texture consistency, that would appeal to the consumer we had identiﬁed.”
What was your biggest learning and what, if anything, would you have
“Advice that helped me truly understand my consumer was invaluable. However, making sure that the consumer insight is embedded into action is where the real value is created. Ensuring there is professional support to translate insights into action is where I see the true value of the design profession.”