Remember the celebrated “Hummus Wars” between Lebanon and Israel, in which both countries competed to dish out the biggest bowl of chickpea mash? Lebanon, Syria and Israel claim to be the origin of the dish—never mind that all three countries used to be one district of the Ottoman Empire. Now, according to a Tuesday report in Calcalist, a major Israeli corporation, the Strauss Group, manufacturers of dairy products, coffee, water, snacks, salads, and dips, is taking the hummus war to Europe, hungry for conquest.
Before we continue, I must make the point that you can’t possibly compare factory hummus to the real thing. Real hummus is made fresh in Middle East restaurants not every day, but practically every hour. Quality hummus tastes close to sour cream, and after you’ve eaten a lot of it, you’ll still crave more. Factory hummus, by definition, is stale, sour, and mealy. It can’t be helped.
But this story is about Israeli salesmanship and ambition, not quality.
Back in 2005, Strauss bit off a significant chunk out of the US hummus market, acquiring 51% of Sabra as yet another step in realizing its international expansion strategy. Strauss brought with it know-how and marketing strategy that led to the growth of the brand and of the entire category.
Indeed, in 2006 Strauss, through its subsidiary Sabra, acquired Carousel Foods of America, a New York company that specializes in dairy dips. And in 2008, Strauss signed a 50/50 partnership agreement with PepsiCo for the development, manufacture and marketing of refrigerated dips and spreads in the USA and Canada through Sabra.
In 2011, Strauss Group and PepsiCo created Obela, and through Obela purchased a Dutch organic hummus line called Florentin hummus, in which the partnership invested more than $2 million to generate a manufacturing line of non-organic hummus.
Sabra sales reached $280 million in the US in 2018, while its operating profitability jumped to 9.4% from 6.6% in 2017.
Obela, which also operates in Australia and Mexico, in 207 started selling in Germany. Its sales reached $31 million in the first three months of 2018, compared to $26 million during the same period in 2017.
So, authentic Lebanese and Syrian hummus may taste better (as does Israeli authentic hummus, of course), but Strauss-Pepsi hummus sells way, way better.