Hubba CEO: 'Alternative retail is our biggest area of growth by far'

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: Hubba
Photo Credit: Hubba

Related tags: Hubba, emerging brands

Alternative retail – restaurants and cafes to rock climbing gyms and spas – is a channel that should not be overlooked for emerging food and beverage brands looking to establish their retail footing, says Ben Zifkin, CEO of Hubba, a b2b e-commerce platform connecting retailers and new CPG brands.

Based in Toronto but with customers throughout the US, Hubba​ bills itself as a one-stop shop for retailers to discover and order products from new and emerging brands.

“The heart of it is pretty basic. It’s a platform that connects emerging brands with the retail demand side that’s looking for unique, interesting, high quality products that sell,”​ Zifkin told FoodNavigator-USA.

Hubba takes a 10% commission on all orders (excluding taxes, duties, and shipping costs) placed through its site. There's also a separate payment processing fee of 2.9% per transaction charged by its payment processor, according to the company website.

Zifkin describes the brands on Hubba’s B2B site as “no longer a hobby, but not Unilever yet.”​ Products found on Hubba's website are of the same sort you might encounter at a food industry tradeshow where you'll find shelf-stable spicy avocado sauces or lupini bean snack bars.

“They might be in a few locations and we help them get into potentially hundreds of locations,” ​he said.

Those locations are the usual suspects for a small brand getting its retail footing, which includes independent grocers, gourmet food stores, and health & wellness shops.

Hubba provides not only new potential customers for brands but valuable initial sales data (e.g. which retailers are buying their products and how often are they reordering), added Zifkin.

“Eventually when they do want to go to Whole Foods or a big distributor, they have some data around their products.”

Alternative retail grows

The coronavirus pandemic has not only increased sales on Hubba's platform but also shifted the company's usual clientele looking to stock the next up and coming brand.

Last year, prior to the pandemic, Hubba’s mix of customers buying through its site was roughly 80% traditional retail and 20% alternative buyers (restaurants, gyms, etc.). Today, the balance is approximately 60/40, traditional retail to alternative retail, according to Zifkin.

"Alternative retail is our biggest area of growth by far,"​ said Zifkin

“Our retail side has grown significantly in the past year, but our alternative retail has probably eclipsed that in terms of growth.”​ 

Restaurants get into the grocery game

Since COVID lock-downs, hundreds of restaurants have joined Hubba’s platform in an effort to drive revenue at a time when sit-down dining isn’t an option for many operators.

Over the past few months, Hubba has seen a 341% increase in US restaurants signing up to its site to begin selling packaged food and beverage products in their spaces.

Restaurants are a prime candidate for Hubba’s offerings since they already have the infrastructure in place such as a POS system to sell packaged items, explained Zifkin.

"We're giving them a module pantry layer they can sell​ [in their space] to increase their basket size to bring people back a little more frequently,"​ he said. 

“To them it’s almost like ordering from Amazon. We have very low order minimums because we want people to try and we want to reduce the risk,”​ Zifkin said.

Down the chain of alternative retail

Outside of restaurants and cafes, Zifkin explained that the chain of alternative retail is long, and fragmented, but provides a world of opportunity for brands looking for initial distribution and brand exposure.

“When you start going down the chain a little bit, you start to think about offices, co-working spaces, Airbnb, condo building lobbies, and student residences,”​ he said.

The value of Hubba is that it serves as a central market place for a variety of alternative retail establishments and brands.

"It's all about: How can we get you into these other places where people live, work, and play?"

‘We have this amazing panoramic view of the industry’

Operating an online platform such as Hubba gives the company unique insight into the world of emerging food and beverage trends, said Zifkin.

“We have this amazing panoramic view of the industry. We get to see these transactions really early ​[between brands and retailers], and the beauty of this is we get to see the micro trends as well as macro trends,” ​Zifkin said.

While strong sales of legacy CPG brands show that many consumers are sticking with the familiar and conventional during the coronavirus pandemic, Zifkin said that now is a great time to be a brand at the forefront of emerging diet trends.

"Our biggest spikes are in keto related products, plant-based, and any alternative type of 'better-for-you food," ​he said.

“All of our data shows that dietary needs and demands are non-negotiable now, that’s just where consumers have gone."​ 

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