NEW YORK — The Specialty Food Association (SFA) has collaborated with Specialty Food Partners to launch Infinite Aisle, an online marketplace connecting brands with distributors and retail buyers. The platform is a free benefit for the group’s member companies, many of which are startups or scaling brands struggling to secure retail distribution.
“The program is really going to be industry changing,” said Leo Squatrito, vice president of member development and outreach, Specialty Food Association. “It’s going to provide another way for manufacturers, especially small startups and scaling businesses, to get product in front of retailers, and it’s going to provide distributors the ability to sell more products to their retail customers that they may not have been able to sell before because they weren’t able to warehouse them all.”
Retail buyers order products on the platform. Brands receive orders, print prepaid labels and ship product directly to the retailers. Partner distributors facilitate and guarantee the orders without warehousing any product.
The technology addresses limitations in the traditional food supply chain, said Antony Lee, founder of Specialty Food Partners, which developed the platform.
“What’s happened in the last 15 years or so is there has been an explosion of new brands,” Mr. Lee said. “There are so many fantastic food brands out there now — better-for-you, specialty, great ingredients — and they’re having an incredibly difficult time finding distribution into retail shelves.”
The number of retailers and foodservice outlets selling specialty food also has grown significantly in recent years, he noted.
“The distributors and warehouse owners in the middle have a tremendously difficult problem because their retail customers and restaurant customers would like to see and purchase an increasing number of exciting new food brands, but they can only see what the distributors are offering them, and the distributors can only take in so much of the many new items,” Mr. Lee said. “They’re cautious and resistant to opening up the floodgates because they can’t handle the number of brands that the Specialty Food Association represents to take to the retail community.”
Buyers and distributors may search the platform for product categories or attributes, such as gluten-free or women owned. Buyers may also search for local products based on the distance from the store.
“We’ve also put onto the platform the ability for the maker to deliver direct,” Mr. Lee said. “Particularly with orders for locally made food, if a store wants any item, be it fresh, frozen or shelf stable, the maker can deliver it themselves, and then the system can be used to do that, too.”
The solution is expected to supercharge the $158.4 billion specialty food industry, offering an ongoing way for buyers and brands to connect beyond the biannual Fancy Food Shows.
“It’s so simple when you think about it, simply to bypass the whole warehouse and distribution infrastructure to make food move more efficiently and faster, but more importantly, open up this giant assortment,” Mr. Lee said. “It’s a new way of looking at an old industry.”
Infinite Aisle will debut during Specialty Food Live!, a digital event taking place Jan. 19-22. For more information, go to specialtyfood.com.