April 3, 2023
In the 33 years since CEO Steve Dunn founded Munchkin, the company has become a fixture in caregivers’ homes for baby products that add a dash of clever to the common, reports Fortune Magazine.
The company’s colorful White Hot spoons blanche when they touch food that’s too warm for an infant to eat. Its UV Sterilizing Diaper Pail disinfects the interior when you close the lid. Its Milkmakers lactation cookies boost milk supply. Its Miracle Trainer Cups are so popular that Munchkin estimates there are two for every toddler in the United States.
Those small innovations aim to give harried parents a little more peace of mind, Dunn says, and help differentiate from competition such as Gerber, Evenflo, and Playtex.
Which might explain why a baby bottle-maker headquartered in an old tire plant in the San Fernando Valley lays claim to more patents (about 320) than employees (about 280). Or why the company’s 4,000 SKUs enjoy somewhere in the ballpark of 1.25 million five-star Amazon reviews.
“If a product falls below four stars,” Dunn says, “we have six months to rework it or kill it.” That’s a bit Darwinian for a company whose name evokes the friendlier lands of Oz, certainly. But Munchkin takes creativity quite seriously in its quest to be the world’s top baby brand—which is why it lands at No. 8 on Fortune’s list of America’s Most Innovative Companies amid tech giants like Alphabet, IBM, and Apple.
Daniel Simhon, an executive for the Colombian consumer goods company Stilotex, which exclusively distributes Munchkin products in the South American nation, says even its partner’s oldest designs hold up in today’s market. “They are always one step ahead of the competition,” he says. “We distribute many other brands in Colombia, but Munchkin has a [distinctive] way of working. They are always curious and thinking outside the box.”
Dunn says Munchkin does almost all of its brand design and product development in-house and holds regular “wonderment and ideation” sessions for staff. It considers product development part of every job description, he adds.
“Our head of maintenance, Pietro Capra, recently came to us with an idea for a product and blew us away,” Dunn says. “We showed it to our largest customer yesterday, and they flipped over it. It’ll be on shelves by the end of this year.”
Dunn left the world of venture capital to start Munchkin because he “got tired of reading business plans,” but his next move promises to be the biggest plan of them all. Called Curio Home Goods, it’s a consumer products brand that has nothing to do with babies and everything to do with expanding the company’s TAM—total addressable market—at a time when U.S. birth rates have slumped to historic lows.
“We’re gonna own your sink and kitchen and bath and living room with things you have never seen before,” he says. “It’s almost like a venture startup within Munchkin. We’re creating new innovation teams around it. We probably have 10 to 12 patents pending and three to four issued already for Curio. We hope to move from a branded Munchkin company to a house of brands with multiple multibillion-dollar categories.”
Curio is as existential for Munchkin as it is for its founder. “After 30 years, it’s renewed my energy,” Dunn says. “I get really excited about working on products.”
Research contact: @FortuneMagazine