Hummus Happenings

A look at how the category has evolved in the supermarket deli.

Variety of homemade traditional and beetroot spread hummus with pine nuts, olive oil, pomegranate served on ceramic plates with pita bread and green salad on white marble background. Flat lay, space.

A recent report by New York City-based Statista predicted sales of hummus would increase over the coming years, following a year in which the category recorded nearly $780 million. In fact, it’s projected that hummus sales would reach $911 million by 2024, and sales in supermarket delis are playing a larger role in that achievement.

Pierre Chammas, founder and CEO of Steve’s Mediterranean Chef, headquartered in Madison Heights, MI, notes his company offers longstanding Lebanese family recipes to consumers.

In fact, he set out more than three decades ago to find a way to share these recipes with others.

“I started by launching Basha, a popular hummus brand, and in doing so, proved that there was a need for packaged Mediterranean foods within the greater grocery industry,” he says. “I’ve watched the hummus and Mediterranean foods industry grow into what it is today.”

Aimee Tsakirellis, who serves as vice president of marketing at Ward Hill, MA-based Cedar’s Foods, says the company remains committed to the natural and organic channel of hummus as well as continues to offer conventional hummus under its “hommus” name.

“We have been producing and distributing hummus since 1981,” she says. “Cedar’s Foods produces a variety of natural and organic topped and un-topped flavors of hummus, Mediterranean salads, yogurt dips and pita chips.

An Evolution

Over the years, hummus has grown significantly in popularity and moved from the ethnic food aisle to the produce section and beyond—becoming a staple product in many households.

“With the popularity of vegan and plant-based diets on the rise, hummus is viewed as an excellent source of plant protein and fiber and has proven to be very versatile—used as a dip or spread and accepted across all levels of the economic scale,” says Chammas. “I see hummus sold now in convenience stores, your typical grocery store and the high-end gourmet markets. Some consumers use it as a salad dressing or in place of mustard on a deli sandwich. The possibilities are endless.”

Ken Dedic, vice president of sales and marketing at Jaffa Salads, Inc., based in Mundelein, IL, says the company produces hummus from scratch, with the company cooking its own beans from dry and importing other ingredients right out of Jerusalem.

“Hummus is a lower product in our portfolio, and probably makes up about 12% of the business, but our owner is from Israel, and this is an important part of what we do,” he says. “We’ve been making hummus for about four years.”

Dedic has seen market growth based upon item mix. He believes that if delis only sold original hummus, the market would have stayed stagnant, but because so many companies have introduced so many new flavors, it’s really taken off in recent years.

“My interpretation of the market is that flavor development has aided in the growth,” he says. “Another growth factor has been the whole focus on plant-based products, which has jump-started the industry in a way.”

According to Tsakirellis, hummus has evolved from just a couple of SKUs as an ethnic item on the deli shelves to an entire section of the deli dedicated to hummus brands and different flavors.

“It really is an American everyday item, and delis have evolved to dedicate the space and sales demand,” she says. “Supermarkets are also offering their own brand of hummus as an everyday low price offering on shelf, and in some cases will also have hummus in the deli case in case shoppers want to buy by the pound.”

The popularity of hummus has certainly paved the way for other ethnic items to be merchandised on shelf next to or near it, such as tzatziki, taboule, labne and baba ghannouj.

“As hummus has become more mainstream, consumers are looking for an array of flavors and specific attributes in brands they are loyal to,” says Tsakirellis. “Cedar’s Hommus keeps a close eye on consumer trends, is continually innovating in new flavors and has remained committed to all of the attributes listed above.”

New and Improved

In the hummus world, staples continue to be Original, Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic. Lemon and Everything is currently trending among many brands.

“Some brands have experimented with sweet flavor profiles like dark chocolate,” says Tsakirellis. “Secondary flavors continue to be just that, as each flavor really speaks to specific customers. Specialty flavors like Pineapple Jalapeño and Sundried Tomato & Basil are often incremental purchases in addition to the staples.”

Most hummus experts believe dips and grab-and-go options will continue to be a staple item on grocery and at-home refrigerator shelves.

“The pandemic has provided consumers with extra time to cook and make food from scratch,” says Chammas. “As they head back to their physical offices rather than their virtual ones, I believe the grab-and-go options will see a spike in category growth.”

In response to that, Steve’s Medi­te­r­ranean Chef is learning and discovering new ways to adapt to the new normal brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.

“The one thing that is certain is that people want convenience, but don’t want to sacrifice quality,” says Chammas. “One way we are adapting is by providing ways the consumer can enjoy multiple products at once without having to purchase two or three containers of different hummus flavors or items.”

Garlic Sauce is the newest addition to Steve’s Mediterranean Chef’s existing product lineup that includes four hummus varieties and additional Mediterranean delicacies. This, among others in the product line, are staples of the Mediterranean diet, which is widely considered one of the healthiest diets in the world.

“There are so many ways to provide a consumer with a traditional dip recipe, but we are seeing more companies putting their own spin on them,” says Chammas. “We are also seeing more versatile products. Layering hummus into a sandwich or dipping vegetables or chips into a garlic sauce are great examples of how we are reshaping consumers’ view of these staple ingredients. They can be used to amplify a meal with added flavor and nutrients.”

One thing he wants to make clear—all hummus products are not the same. Depending on process and brand integrity, there is a variety of ingredients used and call outs applied.

“At Steve’s Mediterranean Chef, our hummus is as close to homemade as you can get,” says Chammas. “Our original hummus is a traditional favorite made from chickpeas that have been cooked and mashed, then blended with a special mix of tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Our Roasted Red Pepper Hummus is made with the same ingredients as the original, but features a smoky sweet kick with roasted red peppers.”

The company also offers jalapeño and garlic-flavor hummus.

Neha Parikh, associate director, marketing for Sabra Dipping Co., based in New York, says during the pandemic, consumers have been looking for comfort foods, allowing themselves some indulgence, but are still focused on making better choices. That has led to a rise in hummus sales across the entire industry.

“Sabra’s newest sweet options are a perfect fit for these consumers, with our introduction of Dark Chocolate Dip & Spread earlier this year,” she says. “It has a rich, decadent dark chocolate taste, but in a plant-based dip. It’s perfect with other sweet and savory snackable favorites, from strawberries to pretzels, and only 80 calories per serving.”

Sabra Dipping Co. continues to innovate and release new plant-based products, which is a rising trend in the hummus category. To that end, it will soon be releasing Sabra Snackers with the Dark Chocolate Dip and Pretzels in a convenient grab-and-go pack.

Jaffa Salads’ flavor mix is more on the traditional side, as Dedic notes it hasn’t yet expanded into newer flavors, though the company is doing research and development on other types.

“We do see there’s a need for new flavors but we haven’t launched anything yet,” he says. “I like to compare the hummus industry to ice cream. There’s all these flavors out there, but the number one seller is still vanilla, just like our number one is still original. That’s true across the industry.”

Packaging Innovation

Jaffa Salads has spent a lot of time working on extending the product life of its hummus and that has come through new packaging.

“Most products on the shelf use a combination of citric acid or lemon juice and potassium sorbate as a preservative,” says Dedic. “The key to keeping the shelf life long is monitoring the pH level in hummus. You want lower than a 4.3”

Since most hummus containers are 5.5 inches, Jaffa Salads said it could make it difficult to advertise the brand anywhere other than the top.

“We’ve seen labels becoming more unique for the top-down view,” says Dedic.

Chammas notes that Steve’s Mediterranean Chef by design hand packs each of its products and tends to avoid packaging innovation, as he finds it commercializes the brand, and takes attention away from the authenticity of the company.

Marketing & Merchandising Tips

Supermarket delis can successfully market and merchandise hummus by providing it more visibility in the marketplace.

“They can help educate the consumer about product offerings through partnerships with registered dietitians, a trusted source of knowledge,” says Chammas. “As for shelf life issues, we are delivering a fresh-made product by design. True to our mission, we choose to deliver direct to our customers to ensure we are putting the freshest product possible on the store shelves.”

Dedic has seen many retailers place hummus and hummus-like products next to each other on the store shelves, which has aided in the category.

Tsakirellis notes supermarket delis can work with a true category captain to carve out a growing set mix of brands and private label options.

“We have seen time and again when category managers work hand in hand with brands to create a winning set, this drives incremental growth and continues to keep the set exciting and fresh,” she says.

Dedic says supermarket retailers should be highlighting the fact that hummus is a healthy product that provides a little bit of protein, as well.“Focusing on the health aspects of the product is a great way to promote hummus in the marketplace,” he says. “I have been working with a retailer on using hummus as a condiment replacement, and we’ve done some recipe cards on how to use hummus in that way. That can decrease caloric intake and provide a really unique condiment on a sandwich. The deli guys really eat that up.” DB