Mashed chickpeas are all the rage. For the past several years, mainstream retailers have brought more hummus varieties into their coolers, and for good reason.
In 2012, the refrigerated spreads category had double-digit unit growth, with volume sales up 10.4% over the 52 weeks ending Dec. 2, according to Chicago-based SymphonyIRI. This growth comes after a unit sales increase of 10.8% in the 52 weeks ending Jan. 1, 2012.
Flavored Spreads Sales
View an interactive chart comparing dollar sales of top vendors of flavored spreads.
Retailers across the country have seen shoppers taking more interest in hummus.
“We sell a whole lot of it,” said Ian Joskowitz, chief operating officer, Westside Market NYC, a four-store independent based in Manhattan. It was over the past three years that Joskowitz noticed a growing interest in hummus.
Patti Rispoli, deli and floral supervisor at Food Circus Super Markets, Middletown, N.J., said it’s been about eight years since hummus caught on in Super Foodtown locations.
“As far as sales on it, it has steady growth, and it’s just been an item that has really taken off.”
Westside Market, known for its wide variety of prepared foods, offers both commercial and house-made hummus. The hummus category is so popular that one of its stores just expanded merchandising space.
“In recent weeks, we added another refrigerated case half dedicated to hummus,” Joskowitz said.
Gary Taylor, business manager for deli at United Supermarkets, Lubbock, Texas, said stores offer a variety of commercial brands, flavors and sizes of hummus.
“Many more flavors added and each new flavor seems to do very well,” he said.
United also makes fresh hummus on-site. The fresh hummus is available in the salad bar or sold packaged. While the 10-ounce container is United’s biggest segment, Taylor said the snack size varieties are gaining sales.
“I expect to see the four-flavor large variety pack increase even more. It is a very new item for us.”
From 2009 to September 2012, the most popular flavors of hummus were plain (61%), roasted (18%), garlic (11%) and red pepper (10%), according to a recent Mintel report.
These overall flavor trends are similar to what Joskowitz has seen at Westside Market.
“Roasted pine nut is a big seller; the plain is a big seller. The toned down hummuses sell the best. Roasted red pepper is a great seller. The spicy stuff doesn’t sell nearly as well,” he said. The commercial brands are more popular than the store-made varieties at Westside Market.
At Food Circus, Rispoli said the best-selling varieties and sizes depend on the store.
“In one store, for instance, they may sell a lot of just the classic and another store may sell more of the baba ganoush or a white bean, so the variety just goes by store location.”
Restaurants have also picked up on the hummus. There was a 5.3% increase in hummus menu items at restaurants and buffets from the fourth quarter of 2011 to the fourth quarter of 2012, according to Mintel’s Menu Insights. Spinach/artichoke dips and cheese dips also made it onto more menus, with 8.9% and 9.3% growth, respectively.
Why are shoppers so into hummus? As hummus is a Middle Eastern dish, interest derives, in part, from a broader interest in ethnic foods, according to consultant Jay Jacobowitz.
“The Millennials are driving experimentation in the [ethnic food] category, as are parents of children in what’s turned out to be a primary way to show them the world, figuratively if you will,” said Jacobowitz, president of natural product industry consulting group Retail Insights, Brattleboro, Vt.
“By sampling cuisine from different cultures, parents can teach a life lesson about different ethnicities, different communities.”
In addition to age, income also plays a role in hummus-eater demographics. “Ethnic spread usage is most popular with consumers 25-34 years old and the usage index also goes up with income levels,” said Mintel analyst Patty Johnson.
Jacobowitz noted that hummus’ good health profile of fiber and low calories, affordable price and snacking opportunities are appealing to shoppers. The snacking opportunity is important as consumers are moving away from the traditional three-meal day. Suppliers have been catering to this trend, developing single-serve options with pita bread or pretzels.
“I think hummus has probably exposed a broad swath of the population not previously tuned in to spreads to this really beautiful option — it’s healthful, it’s fast, it’s satisfying, it’s affordable and you can spread it on whatever you have handy — a cracker, a piece of bread.”
Rispoli has seen consumers get creative, combining hummus with different foods.
“And hummus, too, over the years as it becomes more popular and has been becoming more popular, people just do different things with it. They’ll put hummus and vegetables on pita bread and just make a sandwich or a snack out of it.”
She also pointed to consumers combining hummus with baguettes or bringing a hummus vegetable platter to parties.
Hummus’ versatility lends itself to cross-merchandising. Both Westside Market and United Supermarkets cross-merchandize with pita chips and crackers.
Jacobowitz suggested that hummus could be placed in the refrigerated produce case, the dairy case and even the cheese case.
Whether trying to attract new customers and promote a new item, retailers are also using sampling to boost sales.
“Right in front of that case, every day all day we sample hummus,” Joskowitz said about one Westside Market location.
“As far as in-store promotions, if we have a new item come in we always try to do some type of sampling or demo on it just so we can get the taste and the product flavor out to the consumer so we can start to increase the sales on that particular brand as well,” said Rispoli.
Some products are difficult to sample, but hummus is not one, according to Jacobowitz.
“Celery, carrot sticks, the sampling options for this category is full of possibility. … This is made for sampling. Ease and also likely conversion to purchase right on the spot is very, very high as well,” he said.
A recent Mintel report suggested that there is ample opportunity to expand Hispanic shoppers’ consumption of ethnic dips like hummus. While the freshness, flavor, health profile and opportunity for home entertaining of hummus can be appealing to all shoppers, these factors are especially important to the Hispanic customer group, Mintel found.
“Spanish-dominant and bilingual Hispanics are more likely to seek fresh and natural foods. Hummus, made with garbanzo beans and tahini sauce (sesame seeds) are both products that Hispanics are familiar with. Hummus can be positioned as a healthy and nutritional snack that the entire family can enjoy,” said Mintel analyst Leylha Ahuile.
“I think marketers assume that Hispanics know what goes into hummus, and breaking it down by the key ingredients would resonate with this consumer group.”
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Mintel said Spanish language packaging and hummus flavors with fresh herbs or hot chile could attract more Hispanic customers to the hummus category.
Nine out of 10 Hispanic customers consume savory dips and spreads and Mintel found that four out of 10 Hispanic shoppers are already eating ethnic spreads. These consumption rates are higher than the overall average of one in three customers using ethnic spreads.
Overall, the ethnic dip category is primed for growth. Mintel expects the flavored spreads category to increase by 66% by the end of 2016, going from a $514 million segment to a $1 billion one.
“I think actually the category of spreads — ethnic spreads, flavored spreads — could probably be in its relative infancy,” Jacobowitz said.
“Because as the profiles become healthier, become more interesting, more flavorful, think of baba ghanoush and other things, it will probably broaden the base of the category and make people aware of several choices that there are.”
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