Today, Munchkin is a leading, global manufacturer of more than 600 infant and toddler products with its main headquarters in Van Nuys, Calif., and offices in Canada, Europe and China. “Our core categories are infant and toddler feeding and cleaning accessories, bath toys and accessories, safety, travel and nursery items, including diaper pails and refills,” President Andy Keimach states.
“We are the largest manufacturer of metal safety gates in the United States,” he adds. “Munchkin holds a leading position in sippy cups as well as toddler feeding, bath and travel accessories.”
Its latest products include the Miracle® Cup, “a spoutless sippy cup with a 360 degree valve that allows a child to drink safely from any point on the cup lid,” Keimach says, noting that the cup does not leak. “It’s one of our newest and fastest-growing products.”
Munchkin also makes The Arm & Hammer™ diaper pail which is proven No. 1 in odor control, and is the only company to take significant market share from Playtex, which previously dominated the category.
“Munchkin’s products are developed through a consumer-focused process involving a great deal of collaboration by the Marketing and Product Development teams,” says Jeff Kaltreider, vice president of marketing. Munchkin first carefully selects its focus categories and then does the necessary research to identify consumer needs and gaps in the marketplace. Its Product Development and Marketing teams then come together to develop innovative solutions to meet those needs.
When its teams come up with new product concepts, they are given 10 minutes to pitch their ideas to Munchkin’s executive team, which judges them on multiple aspects, including commercial viability and how they might make parents’ lives easier. “It really is a collaborative process,” Kaltreider says.
The company also holds strategic meetings with its key retailers, including Target, Walmart, Babies “R” Us and Amazon.com, Dunn says.
“Often, members of their buying teams will come in once a year for a one or two-day period,” he explains. “We’ll brainstorm with them, show them some of our new product ideas and work with them to identify additional opportunities.”
Munchkin strives to keep its products innovative, Dunn says. He recalls, that in the company’s infancy, a senior buyer at a retail chain told him he was not interested in Munchkin due to his well-established relationships with 50- to 100-year-old brands like Gerber and Playtex.
The experience drove Dunn to invent products that were innovative and demonstrably better than what was being offered at the time.
So far, Munchkin has been awarded 154 patents, filing 32 last year alone. An example of a new patent pending product is the Mist™ Wipe Warmer, which sprays a mist over the top of the baby wipes to keep them moist while they are being warmed. “It’s doing well,” he states.
The focus on innovation also has paid off for the company, Keimach adds. “There are not a lot of consumer products companies that can claim they’ve won Target’s Partner Award of Excellence three different times in an eight-year period and have won Babies ”R” Us Vendor of the Year Award in consecutive years,” he says. “These are the things that distinguish us from our competitors and motivate us to be even better.”
Making Lives Easier
Munchkin focuses on making parents’ lives easier with its products, Keimach says. An example is the LATCH® baby bottle, which “allows Mom to transition the baby from breast feeding to bottle feeding and back without problems,” he says.
The design of the Latch nipple, he notes, mimics a mother’s nipple. With its accordion-style design, “It can move and stretch just like mom’s breast, allowing babies to achieve a correct latch, which is critical for successful feedings,” he says. “Because the bottle functions more like the breast, babies can more easily switch between bottle feeding and breast feeding without issue.” The bottle also features a bottom venting anti-colic valve that keeps air and breast milk from mixing, reducing the amount of gas in a baby’s stomach.
Since its introduction in 2014, the Latch bottle has gotten an enthusiastic reception. “I got a letter from a mom in San Francisco that said, ‘Thank you, you allowed me to go to my friend’s wedding,’” Dunn recalls, noting that the mother tried 30 different bottles but could not get her baby to drink out of them.
“She had a friend who was getting married and she was going to tell her she couldn’t go because her baby would only tolerate breast feeding,” he continues. “But when she tried our bottle after 30 others, her baby took to it immediately. Her husband could feed her baby breast milk at home so she could attend the wedding. We’re getting a lot of positive feedback from people who have a finicky baby [and are able use our bottle].”
The company also has launched a new website that allows busy moms to easily learn about its products. “Munchkin.com provides you all the information you need to make an informed decision,” Kaltreider says. “We have assembled a complete and easy-to-navigate collection of product information, photographs, videos and instruction manuals. By creating this content for our own site, we are also able to provide it to all of our retail partner ecommerce sites.”
A Two-Way Street
Munchkin takes pride in nurturing its relationships with retailers, Keimach says. “It’s very much a two-way street,” he says. “In the U.S., the majority of infant and toddler accessories are sold at Target, Walmart, Babies “R” Us and Amazon. Those four customers represent approximately 75 percent of the market.
“We work hard to be held in very high regard by each of those customers,” he says. “It’s vital to our business [that we] show new products early and get feedback which can increase the chance for success. Early feedback allows us the time to experiment a bit with different concepts.”
The company also praises its website development partners including email service provider Bronto Software Inc., based in Durham, N.C. “We picked them as a partner due to their direct connection to Magneto, advanced personalization tools and simple user interface,” Munchkin Director of Global E-Commerce Jonathan Bradbury says.
Getting Even Better
Munchkin’s sights are set on global expansion, Keimach says. “Today, we have offices in Toronto, the UK, Shanghai and Hong Kong,” he says. “We are very excited about the opportunity for expansion in China.”
The company also has significant sales in Latin America, Spain and France. “We’re looking at getting feet on the ground in these markets and growing our business using the same principles that have led to our domestic success.”
Kaltreider adds that the company will also focus on being relevant. “The marketplace is currently very strong for companies that are as innovative as we are,” he explains. “We are never satisfied and continuously look for ways to make our products better. Parents expect new solutions from Munchkin. This expectation serves as our motivation to challenge the status quo, creating innovations that make life that much easier for the ever-evolving, modern parent.”