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Ithaca Hummus seeing rapid growth, dipping into $1B industry

Stacks of packaged Ithaca Humus are shown in the company's production facility.
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Ithaca Hummus has increased production from 13,000 pounds of hummus a week in 2017, to 150,000 pounds a week today.

A Rochester company is gaining ground and building momentum in what is a billion-dollar North American industry.

The business is hummus. And Ithaca Hummus is seeing sales skyrocket.

"In 2017, we didn't even break $1 million in sales,” said Frank Cavallaro, the company’s chief operating officer. “Obviously, it was growing. It was growing slowly. But this year, we're going to probably surpass about $25 million.”

Ithaca Hummus is now sold in every state, continues to add stores and is looking to break into club stores.

The growth coincides with a business partnership between Ithaca Hummus and LiDestri Foods. That partnership was forged in 2016, and moved the business from Ithaca to Rochester. Cavallaro came onboard at that time, bringing the staff to three. Today, the company employs 14.

“And that number is probably going to double in the next two years is our guess,” Cavallaro said.

Part of a global market

Hummus is most commonly used as a spread or dip. It’s made from blended chickpeas (or garbanzo beans), tahini (or sesame paste) and other ingredients.

The global hummus market is projected to grow by nearly 10% this year, with the North American market accounting for more than a third of the increase, according to the Global Hummus Sales Market Report 2022 by 360 Research Reports. More hummus is sold in Europe, however, than anywhere in the world.

A vat of chickpeas or garbanzo beans are shown.
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A vat of chickpeas or garbanzo beans awaits processing in Ithaca Hummus' facility. The company has seen sales skyrocket, projected to exceed $25 million this year -- up from less than a $1 million in 2017.

The pandemic has only furthered sales growth, reports show, with people doing more food preparation at home and looking for healthier, pre-packaged options. And while the hummus market is considered fragmented, with many producers, records show Strauss Group with its Sabra brand is by far the biggest player.

But supply chain disruptions have been disruptive, opening the door for smaller more nimble producers like Ithaca Hummus. The company has sought to capitalize, Cavallero said, but growth has been steady overall.

Changing their ways

Until recently, Ithaca Hummus still was cooking the chickpeas in a handful of small tanks, then cooling the batches in a refrigerator and blending. The whole process took about 24 hours.

“We have been using the same equipment for the last five years,” Cavallaro said. “And then you know, as we grew, the equipment obviously couldn't keep up with what we were doing.”

So the decision was made last year to invest in a specially designed, automated cooking process using dried beans. That system was operational in August and completes the process in just two hours.

“Right now, we're producing around 150,000 pounds of hummus a week,” Cavallaro said, adding they have the capacity to double that number. “When we started out with LiDestri, we were closer to about 13,000 pounds a week.”

The new processing line also effectively eliminates supply chain concerns and saves money.

Packages of Ithaca Hummus are shown being loaded into a container for processing.
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High pressure processing is a means of using pressure in a sealed, water-filled chamber to effectively pasteurize the product without heat, extending the shelf life without while preserving flavor and without using preservatives.

Using dried beans is the industry standard. But to keep up with production, the company had been supplementing with frozen chickpeas, meaning several trucks arriving daily with refrigerated product. Now it arrives entirely by railcar, in larger quantities, from dedicated fields in the Pacific Northwest.

Ithaca Hummus also relies on high-pressure processing, meaning there’s no need for preservatives or a high temperature “kill” process to eliminate or slow bacteria growth and extend shelf life.

Instead, the finished, sealed product is submerged in water, in a sealed chamber, and placed under 87,000 pounds of pressure – which is more than five times greater than the deepest part of the ocean.

That has extended the shelf life of their hummus from 28 days to more than 100, officials said.

“It's just this processing technology that is still growing,” he said. “And it's being used more and more, mostly in fresh juices and meats. But it's an amazing technology that basically allows for the product to be safe and extend the shelf life, and you're able to maintain all the nutrition that you want to be in the product.”

Brian Sharp is WXXI's business and development reporter. He has been covering Rochester since 2005, working most of that time as an investigative reporter with the Democrat and Chronicle. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.