The Dip That Keeps On Giving

Hummus popularity continues rising, as diverse flavors are unveiled

It’s amazing how an Eastern Mediterranean dish consisting of a creamy, thick paste made primarily from finely-crushed chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and salt has become a deli department staple. 

It may be its healthier nutritional profile, the ever expanding innovative flavors or the more recently unveiled convenience packaging with pairings that have given it an edge, or maybe all of the above.

Whatever the reason, the popularity of this dip, spread and/or topping shows no signs of waning.

The Moscow, ID-based USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council estimates that hummus sales in supermarkets are worth $725 million and an estimated 25 percent of American homes now stock hummus in the refrigerator. 

According to a report published by Market Research Future (MRFR), the global hummus market is assessed to grow 12.84 percent between 2018 and 2027. North America is the largest regional market for hummus, accounting for more than 55.7 percent of the global market share.

“Hummus has shown a steady annualized market growth of 11 percent from 2009 through 2017,” says Morgan Murray, general manager of Califresh of California LLC, located in Sanger, CA “I would have to say trends in sales are definitely up.  

Due to massive marketing campaigns by major manufacturers of this product, consumers have a heightened awareness of hummus and its nutritional value. This is having a positive effect in the packaged supermarket deli aisle.”

The growing move towards plant-based proteins also has helped propel the hummus category to new heights in recent years.

Talking Trends

Since the creation of hummus, which is thought to date back to 13th century Egypt, the category has undergone an evolution of sorts.

One example is the varieties transcending from the savory category to sweet.

Tribe Mediterranean Foods, LLC, based in Taunton, MA, recently launched a line of sweet hummus with flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, caramel and cake batter.

“Last I looked, the traditional hummus category was down $3.5 million, but sweet hummus sales were up,” says John McGuckin, Tribe’s CEO. “It’s the sweet varieties that are attracting new users.”

Yet, the hummus category as a whole has a ways to go in terms of usage.

“Household penetration is still less than 30 percent in this category,” McGuckin says. “It’s now a matter of building awareness and encouraging trial. The strategy is to get consumer insights to drive growth.”

The impetus for this may be coming from an unlikely source—foodservice.

“Panera is launching a hummus bowl on its new menu that includes various proteins, and we think that will help reset consumers in terms of better understanding hummus usage,” McGuckin says. “When the foodservice industry at large begins to use hummus in other ways, the opportunity for growth will be dramatic.”

Many are not aware that, in addition to its use as a dip, hummus can serve as a spread, side dish or protein bowl solution.

While some contend flavor innovations will be the catalyst for growth in this category, others feel a back to basics approach will get the job done.

“Consumers are favoring traditional flavors, such as original, lemon, roasted red pepper and garlic,” says Aimee Tsakirellis, director of marketing at Cedar’s Foods, based in Ward Hill, MA. “This is because these flavors are versatile and can be used in a variety of applications, including as ingredients in recipes and as a spread on sandwiches.”

Traditional hummus not only continues to create incremental sales for supermarkeet retailers, but also has helped weed out the less popular flavors.

In addition, because consumers are seeking healthier snacking options, they also are recognizing brand transparency and certifications in the process. 

“They are willing to pay a bit more for a value added product, such as organic options,” says Tsakirellis.

Califresh of California offers three Sarah’s Harvest Fresh Green Chickpea Hummus flavors all made with fresh ingredients, including Cilantro/Jalapeño, Roasted Garlic/Rosemary and Original. Products are sold in 9.5-ounce tubs for the packaged deli aisle and 2-pound piping bags for foodservice and prepared deli cases.

“Our hummus is made using chickpeas that are harvested green, before the peas turn into the dried seed that is used as the base ingredient to make traditional hummus,” says Murray. “We harvest the chickpeas when their seeds are tender, succulent and green, nestled in their paper-thin pods. They are picked at the precise time when sugars start to convert to carbohydrates, and both flavor and nutrition are at their peak.”

The company’s most popular flavors are Fresh Cilantro/Jalapeño followed by Roasted Garlic/Rosemary.

Innovation is definitely a driver, along with added attention on expanded usage.

“Getting ideas out of the box, like hummus with sriracha sauce and chocolate hummus [are the big trends],” says Michael Schneiderman, vice president, international sales, at Shamir USA in Port Washington, NY. “More and more new hummus combinations are on the shelves.”

Recent Innovations

Packaging changes have definitely propelled hummus’ profile in the deli.

Tribe recently launched an 8-ounce size, when the larger 10-ounce size is typical.

“We think Millennials find the smaller size attractive, and we can keep prices down,” says McGuckin. “This way, there’s no waste, and we can offer a more accessible price point for consumers to get in the hummus category.”

Hummus also naturally lends itself to grab-and-go options.

Tribe offers a cobranded portable pairing of hummus with pretzels in a 2-ounce single-serve size for lunch boxes and snacking.

Cedar’s conventional hummus is available in a variety of sizes, such as 10-ounce Topped Organic Hommus, Hommus Snack Packs, Hommus Singles, Tzatziki, and Mediterranean Salads. Its newest flavors include Dark Chocolate, Topped Organic Jalapeño and Topped Organic Balsamic Caramelized Onion Hommus.

“Our most popular varieties are Original, Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic,” says Tsakirellis.

Last year, Shamir USA launched Huy Fong Sriracha Hummus, capitalizing on the spicy food trend.

Marketing & Merchandising

What makes hummus so appealing to retailers and consumers is its usage options.

“Hummus is so versatile, it can make its way as a sandwich spread, vegan pizza topping, ingredient in make-at-home meals, and it does really well as a grab-and-go item in veggie cups or sold as a snack pack/single-serve prepared item,” says Tsakirellis at Cedar’s Foods.

Cedar’s dedicates an entire section of its website to a recipe database that inspires utilization and application of its flavors.

But the hummus category is not without its challenges.

“I think there’s been a lack of innovation, some quality issues in the category and some brand difficulties as well as a lack of marketing,” says Tribe’s McGuckin. “Hummus is a billion dollar category, and looking across the board, you don’t see the type of marketing you’d expect in a segment of this size.”

He also has noticed from data provided by category leaders that some retailers are pulling back on merchandising and promotions, focusing instead on other products like guacamole.

Innovation and crossing over from savory to sweet may be a solution.

“Sweet hummus brings fruit into the category, such as bananas, apples, strawberries and blueberries,” says McGuckin. “This provides more cross merchandising opportunities. Plus, this type of hummus doesn’t require a carrier; it can be eaten like pudding with a spoon, yet doesn’t have a high sugar content.”

Another place hummus may see expansion is in deli prepared food programs.

“I believe unique deli products have a place in the prepared foods deli case,” says Murray at Califresh of California. “Availability there offers the consumer an opportunity to taste and respond to the product as well as learn more about its versatility.”

Given the predicted growth of the hummus category, it is evident that consumer usage will continue increasing and flavor innovation has not yet peaked.

“It is becoming more apparent, from our participation in public events, that more than ever consumers are familiar with and purchase hummus,” says Murray. “This inspires me to believe the future of hummus in supermarket delis is bright. I also believe the demand for premium hummus is on the rise, which is where Sarah’s Harvest will have the greatest impact.”

 McGuckin at Tribe anticipates the rise of sweet hummus will bring new life to an already thriving category.

“Sweet hummus is where innovation has been and what’s saving the category,” he says. “I think the category is about to explode with the advent of sweet hummus coupled with what’s happening in the foodservice industry. Consumers are looking for healthy alternatives and fruit becomes viable with sweet hummus. Hopefully, retailers will think about expanding this space again, because it will be big.”

It may just be an expanded demographic that will do the trick to keep this ever evolving category top of mind for retailers as well as consumers.“Hummus has established its spot as a must-have on every shopper’s grocery list,” says Tsakirellis at Cedar’s Foods. “As the new generations of consumers are looking for convenient ways to receive functional nutrition, the applications and usage of hummus will increase, driving growth and, ultimately, more sales.”     DB