Mariano’s grocery store chain is looking for products sold by minorities and women to stock the shelves of their roughly 40 stores throughout Illinois.
“We are serving customers who have different likes and dislikes, and we want our vendors to be a reflection of our customers,” said Mariano’s head Bob Mariano in a recent interview. “We want local [vendors] to get the opportunity to present their products and for our customers to decide if they like those products.”
For the past several years, Mariano has worked with Trinal Inc., a Chicago-based company that helps its corporate clients become more diverse, so that it can identify minority- and women-owned vendors from across the city and suburbs.
The company finds and screens vendors in addition to organizing expos where prospective vendors can pitch their products to Mariano’s executives. According to Alicia Garcia-Abner, president of Trinal Inc., the majority of vendors that attend these expos wind up getting their products on the shelves.
“They can contact us (anytime) and we will provide them with the forms and documents they will need to complete, and we’ll forward it to the appropriate [party],” she said, adding that her company helped Mariano’s develop the program.
The company’s website has an online form vendors can use to apply at http://www.trinalinc.com/marianos-vendor-registration-form/. It takes a few weeks before potential vendors are notified of their status.
There have been three expos held each year since 2013 and at least 46 out of the 51 vendors featured at each one have been selected by Mariano’s to have their products sold by the grocery store, company executives said. At this year’s expo, held Aug. 3 at De LaSalle Institute on the South Side, most of the vendors were from the South Side and south suburbs. A few, however, were from the West Side.
Fallon Johnson runs Anne Bell Fragrances, an Austin-based company that makes scented candles, soaps, body butters and oils. The company has been around since 2010. She said that the company grew out of her own passions. Johnson even named the company after her grandmother.
“I like candles a lot of myself,” Johnson said. “I started making them for myself, and everyone wanted me to start making them for them. The business kind of took off from there.”
The local businesswoman said a friend told her about the opportunity to apply to be a vendor with Mariano’s.
“I was in the right place in the right time,” Johnson said.
Renee’s Raw Chocolate, originally of Glen Ellyn, recently moved to the West Side’s Kinzie Industrial Corridor. Founder and co-owner Renee Faur, who noted that she started the company eight years ago, said she was motivated to create the business because she wanted to find out a way to become more healthy and energized.
She started experimenting with a raw food diet, eventually becoming a certified chef. She decided to try making chocolate using non-processed, all-natural ingredients in order to benefit her children.
“I created chocolate they could eat every day and that could be good for their body,” said Faur. “The company opened for business in 2010. But about two years later, it folded.”
The closure of her business, Faur said, encouraged her to do things differently and to “run my business smarter than that.” She relocated to Kinzie Corridor so she could take advantage of the resources provided by the Industrial Council of Northwest Chicago’s business incubator.
Mariano’s doesn’t have any stores on the West Side, but it works with the North Lawndale Employment Network, an organization that helps local residents develop job skills. Mariano’s stores also carry honey-based products created by Sweet Beginnings, NLEN’s honey production arm. The chain has also hired the non-profit’s clients.