A Changing Category

From pure ingredients to pairings and promotions, hummus continues evolving.

Sarah Klose

Hummus—that wonderful spread made of chickpeas, tahini, garlic and salt—is so versatile that retailers successfully market it as a dip, spread and cooking ingredient.

Twenty six percent of U.S. households purchase hummus, according to Statista, New York, and U.S. retail sales of hummus reached $696 million in 2020.

Whether plain or flavored, hummus is a favorite dip and party tray addition and may well continue its expansion into all areas of dining and snacking. Global hummus sales are projected at $830 million for 2021, with the annual growth rate expected to be 3.3% through 2026, according to Statista.

Pure Ingredients, Creative Promotions

At its purest, hummus is an unflavored spread. “Our hummus is clean label, non-GMO, vegan and has no artificial preservatives,” says Katie Baldwin, brand marketing manager of Atalanta, based in Elizabeth, NJ. “The higher tahini ratio (20%) in our Del Destino blend offers a slightly more toasted and traditional flavor.”

Atalanta was founded in New York City in 1945, and imports thousands of meat, seafood, cheese and specialty foods from 60 countries around the globe. Its Del Destino line includes pesto from Peru and eggplant puree from Turkey. Del Destino hummus is imported from Israel, and the sole flavor is plain.

“We have the ability to add flavors upon request. We’ve found people often like plain hummus for its customizability and use in recipes,” says Baldwin.

Hummus brands have broadened the reach of plant-based spreads through various initiatives. Some companies focus on high-quality ingredients, while others create new flavors, develop recipes or give away samples.

A 2014 Fast Company magazine article titled, “80 Million People Have Never Heard of Hummus,” Sabra employees as they crisscrossed America and handed out samples from hummus mobiles at supermarkets, churches and sporting events, hoping to raise visibility and win new customers.

Per Chicago-based IRI, Sabra has increased its hummus market share to 61%. But the hummus market is competitive. Statista reports that in 2020, Ithaca, Boar’s Head, Cedar’s and private label sales grew; Sabra and Tribe had negative or flat sales growth.

“Although growth may have slowed a bit from the earliest days of initial distribution and discovery, more recently, shoppers have begun to appreciate just how well hummus pairs with nearly everything.” says Kerry Powers, associate director of Shopper Marketing at Sabra Dipping Co. in White Plains, NY.

Sabra was founded 35 years ago in Queens, NY, and makes a variety of hummus, guacamole and Mediterranean bean dips. PepsiCo and Israeli food manufacturer Strauss Group now own Sabra 50/50. In July 2021, Sabra hired new CEO Joey Bergstein from Seventh Generation, producer of plant-based detergents and cleaners.

Bergstein plans to increase sales of Sabra’s plant-based spreads and dips by positioning them as healthy and sustainable. The company grows its non-GMO chickpeas in the Pacific Northwest and features 16 different hummus flavors—everything from Caramelized Onion to Olive Tapenade.

Staple Varieties and
Popular Flavors

As far as flavors, Classic hummus (also called Plain or Original) is the most popular across all brands. Roasted Red Pepper and Roasted Garlic are frequently mentioned, too.

“Right now we have six flavors in our portfolio,” says Ken Dedic, vice president of sales and marketing at Jaffa Salads in Mundelein, IL. “Of these, Original seems to be the staple for most hummus companies—just like in the ice cream industry, it’s vanilla.”

Jaffa Salads was founded 40 years ago as a produce seller and grocer for Middle Eastern, Russian and Indian immigrants in the U.S. Today, it serves 1,000 retailers in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. The “from-scratch” company makes and ships its hummus, salsa, baba ghanoush and guacamole to order and does not store its product in a warehouse. Its lines are vegan, kosher and free of fillers.

At Jaffa Salads, the tahini (made from sesame seeds) comes from Israel. Dedic says there are three types of hummus textures (creamy, granular and whipped). Jaffa Salads makes the traditional creamy style.

“Whereas the national brand has reduced tahini to 2% to 3%, we still retain up to 15% tahini in our formulation, which produces a creamier, nuttier flavor. Granular was popular, but now people are coming back to creamy. We want to be as dense and thick as possible, so our hummus will stick to a chip or a vegetable such as a radish or piece of cucumber or a carrot,” says Dedic.

Lakeview Farms produces dips, spreads, seafood salads, puddings and desserts. In December 2018, it purchased Tribe Mediterranean Foods, producer of more than 20 flavors of hummus ranging from spicy to sweet. The lines are non-GMO and free of preservatives, cholesterol and hydrogenated oils.

“Our big three—Classic, Roasted Garlic and Roasted Red Pepper—are also the most popular,” says Greg Klein, chief marketing officer of the Delphos, OH-based Lakeview Farms. “Staple hummus flavors for us are pretty much Pepper, Mediterranean, Everything and Spicy.”

New Products Push the Envelope

The Everything hummus is one of several new flavors offered by hummus brands. Modeled after the Everything But Bagel, the hummus is adorned with sesame, poppy seed, garlic and onion.

Lakeview Farms has created new flavors besides Everything hummus. Its Tribe hummus brand recently focused on unique flavors such as buffalo, and the blending of black beans or yellow lentils into the hummus.

“We even have Sriracha Carrot,” Klein says. “There has been a lot of unique flavor development obviously. There has been the introduction of sweet hummus—dark chocolate and pumpkin pie, which wasn’t a thing until a few years ago.”

Sabra continues to release new products and flavors. Its Dark Chocolate Dip has 55% less sugar than popular hazelnut spreads, so folks can indulge without overindulging.

“We also recently launched a new product line—Sabra Kids Plant-based Snack Kits,” says Powers of Sabra. The single-serve snacks come in two kid-friendly flavors: Brownie Batter Dip & Graham Cracker Sticks and Taco Dip & Rolled Tortilla Chips.

Jaffa Salads focuses on natural organic ingredients. Three of its hummus lines are blended, and three are topped with either Red Pepper, Moroccan Matbucha (plum tomatoes, jalapeño), or Spicy Schug (spicy pesto, jalapeño).

“We haven’t ventured out into multiple different flavors, because our audience is the traditionalist. Hummus is a very competitive space, and we are the little guy on the block,” says Dedic of Jaffa Salads. Its hummus flavors keep everything authentic. “If you try something from us that’s spicy, you’d better believe it’ll be spicy.”

Best Marketing and
Merchandising Methods

Whether plain, blended or sold with topping, hummus is easily marketable to health-conscious consumers who desire great taste, smooth texture and “good-for-you” vegetable protein.

“The funny thing is that hummus is not the newest trendiest thing, but it is the original plant-based. It is healthy, it is bean-based, has a lot of protein and has the original flavors anyone can appreciate,” says Dedic.

Deli departments market hummus as a vegetarian option, a platter ingredient or a scoop on a salad or meat bowl instead of guacamole or sour cream. The versatile spread is convenient and lends itself to broad usage.

“Pair it with single-serving carrots or celery in the lunch case instead of a dairy dip, or include hummus as a side in a grab-and-go sandwich box option,” says Powers of Sabra.

Statista says 66% of Americans consider hummus to be healthy. Hummus contains unsaturated fats, which contribute to cardiovascular health. The chickpea and tahini ingredients contain fiber, protein, iron, vitamins and minerals.

“Whether it’s a new plant-based diet, more picnics or a need for smaller, personal sizes to reduce sharing (during the pandemic), Del Destino Hummus meets a variety of these changing needs,” says Baldwin of Atalanta.

Atalanta believes its shelf stable Del Destino hummus, which keeps for 18 months, is best merchandised on top of cases at the deli, next to pita chips or pretzels, or in meal kits. Lakeview Farms prefers presenting all hummus on a shelf by brand block, then by options within a brand.

“Having the nice assortment lets people have a one-stop for hummus where they feel pretty much anything would be available,” says Klein of Lakeview Farms.

Types of Packaging

Hummus is typically packaged in 10-ounce round containers that accent the product’s smooth texture.

“PET is the clearest type of container. It shows off product really well, especially products that have a topping. You want to see that nice topping of roasted red peppers, or olive, or minced garlic, right through the top,” says Klein. Lakeview Farm’s Tribe hummus comes in round containers, plus single-serve packages with chips and dippers.

Sabra features round containers, boxed single cups and tub snack sizes with pita chips or pretzels. Its breakfast grab-and-go has Everything hummus and crispy whole grain toast.

Jaffa Salads has launched guacamole, its number one product, into Costco. The chain carries Jaffa Salads’ bulk-pack guacamole.

Atalanta offers a large size hummus for culinary applications, such as making pita, flatbreads, sandwiches, salads and soups. “We offer Del Destino Hummus in two-pack sizes: a 3.5-ounce grab-and-go cup as well as a 5-pound pouch,” says Baldwin of Atalanta.

Unique Uses

Jaffa Salads considers hummus a staple to be eaten daily. The company believes consumers may try new flavors such as pumpkin spice, but will probably return to the original flavor.

“Hummus is always a blank canvas; we are inspiring you to be creative, to add a bit of lemon on your own, some pine nuts. In the Middle East, hummus is meant to have an artistic element. They’ll drizzle olive oil, pride themselves on the placement of the back of the spoon. Simplicity will always be better than overcomplicating with 50 ingredients,” says Dedic of Jaffa Salads.

Sabra fans use the plant-based spread for everything from morning pomegranate cherry and almond toast to evening hummus mashed potatoes. The company website includes a wealth of recipes, such as Bahn Mi Summer Wrap and Boston Bean Dog.

“Hummus fits the bill for so many meal or snack occasions; we think the future holds great things for this special plant-based food,” says Powers of Sabra.

Lakeview Farms continues to innovate, follow trends and showcase its products. Its online hummus recipes include Creamy Feta & Tomato Pasta Bake and Rainbow Collard Wraps. Its Tribe holiday party trays come in savory and sweet, and display three different hummus types.“With sweet hummus, we’ve seen people put it into a little torte. There is a dark chocolate banana split recipe on our website. There are cake batter cream puffs,” says Klein of Lakeview Farms. “Hummus is not just viewed as Mediterranean anymore. Now you can mix it up with other things. Hummus has a lot of life to explore.” DB


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