- The Specialty Food Association (SFA) has launched a transactional marketplace that connects retailers with specialty manufacturers and facilitates shipping directly to stores, according to a press release.
- Retailers can search the “Infinite Aisle” platform by product attribute, location and other criteria. Suppliers then package and ship each order, which is facilitated and guaranteed by partner distributors. “Distributors will not have to warehouse products, which allows them to offer an unlimited amount of SFA maker member products to their retail customers,” the SFA announcement noted.
- The program offers another avenue for retailers to discover small-scale, local brands at a time when many cottage suppliers have struggled with manufacturing and distribution.
Infinite Aisle joins other digital marketplaces like Rangeme and Forager that connect retailers and distributors with mostly small-scale suppliers. Despite growing demand for niche and local products, these manufacturers have traditionally struggled to get in front of retail buyers.
The marketplace, which SFA offers as a free benefit to its supplier members, lets retailers search products according to category, as well as attributes like fair trade, gluten-free and veteran-owned. Once suppliers receive an order, they print a shipping label and send product directly to stores. Partner distributors facilitate the shipments, according to SFA, but do not have to take possession of or warehouse products.
In its announcement, SFA said its new marketplace comes in response to the distribution challenges that many of its members have faced over the past year. Although the pandemic has significantly boosted demand for groceries, including natural, organic and gourmet offerings, small-scale suppliers have struggled to keep pace with shifting production and shipment demands.
In an interview with Food Dive last spring, SFA's then-president Phil Kafarakis said small producers often work with co-packers, many of which had to rearrange their production schedules to meet demand and state regulations. That lack of predictability along with the outsized impact that worker illnesses and other unforeseen events can have on a small business has crimped cash flow for many companies.
SFA counts over 3,700 suppliers among its base, more than 80% of which are small-scale companies, according to the announcement.