In the spring of 2004, a group of independent retailers began examining the possibility of jointly launching a private label program for commodity goods. Expanding consumer awareness, increased competition and changing industry were all driving factors for these initial retailers to come together and discuss the possibilities of establishing such a program.
Jimbo’s…Naturally! of San Diego, CA; New Leaf of Santa Cruz, CA; Earth Fare of Ashville, NC; and New Frontiers of Solvang, CA, were all part of the initial group of retailers who met at Expo West 2004 to examine a feasibility study prepared by Albert Lusk that addressed launching a private label program. This meeting included a presentation on the possibilities of future programs that could benefit an aggregated group of independents. Additionally, the presentation included the suggestion that a legal structure would be needed to house the shared activities between retailers. The suggestion was made for this group to consider founding an association that would allow for contractual business arrangements within the industry and accountability between retailers for a shared success.
Moving into the summer of 2004, the group of four retailers, together with Albert Lusk, looked for someone to help guide and facilitate a feasibility study to determine the potential success of such a group. In September of 2004, Earth Fare, Jimbo’s…Naturally!, New Frontier, and New Leaf agreed to jointly fund the costs of a feasibility study. David Leppert, from Leppert Consulting, with experience in developing associations of independent distribution businesses, and Corinne Shindelar, an industry experienced organizer and past natural food retailer, were hired to research market potential, viability, and independents’ interest level for banding together.
The feasibility study overwhelmingly supported the concept of an association whose primary mission would be to strengthen independent natural food retailers through shared resources with a concentration on operational improvement, marketing and joint purchasing. By the end of January 2005, the four original founders of INFRA agreed to fund development for the association. As 2005 progressed, they examined various models and opportunities, generated the beginnings of the legal structure and documents of how this would look, and prepared to present the concept to other independents at Expo West 2005. In addition, the founders hired Corinne Shindelar as the Development CEO of the Association. The Good Food Store in Missoula, MT and The Free Market in Appleton, WI joined the Board of Directors working diligently on laying a strong foundation for incorporation, and an additional 14 other independent natural food retailers took the risk by investing capital into the launch of INFRA. In August of 2005, INFRA was established as a cooperative. INFRA then expanded membership and added members to the Board of Directors. In March of 2006, at Expo West, the Board of Directors approved the final draft of the By-laws and Membership Agreement. The stage was set for moving forward on programs, networking, and project opportunities.