Sabra Dipping Co. opens new plant expansion

Sabra Dipping Co. is expecting more Americans to develop a taste for hummus, and the company has ramped up production in the Richmond area to meet that demand.

Sabra, a New York-based joint venture between Israel’s Strauss Group and PepsiCo., officially opened a major expansion of its Chesterfield County food plant on Tuesday.

The 118,000-square-foot addition doubles the plant’s capacity to produce hummus, a traditional Middle Eastern food spread made from chickpeas and tahini.

The plant employs more than 500 people now, and Sabra said it expects to hire about 70 more by the end of 2015.

“This is clearly the center of the Earth for hummus,” David Rader, a member of the Sabra Dipping Co. board of directors, said at an event celebrating the opening. “This is the largest hummus facility in the world, by a long, long way.”

Sabra first opened the factory in the Ruffin Mill Industrial Park in 2010. With the latest expansion, the plant is nearly 250,000 square feet.

While the company doesn’t disclose precise production numbers, a spokeswoman said the expansion will give it the capacity to produce more than 8,000 tons of hummus per month.

Rader said the company expects to expand the plant again in the future, but didn’t provide details.

Sabra does not disclose its sales and profits, but company officials said the total U.S. retail market for flavored, refrigerated dips is estimated at between $750 million and $800 million this year, not including food service.

That category includes hummus, which is a growing part of the market, and Sabra officials said the company has a 65 percent share of the U.S. hummus market.

“We are the driver for the category growth,” said Shali Shalit-Shoval, Sabra’s new chief executive officer.

The company has seen sales growth of about 500 percent since the local factory opened in 2010, she said.

“We would like to double sales in the coming few years,” said Shalit-Shoval, a 25-year food industry veteran who was named CEO of Sabra last week to replace Ronen Zohar, who retired last month after seven years in the position.

While sales of hummus have been growing, about 30 percent of U.S. households consume hummus, so the company wants to attract more customers.

Among its efforts to promote the product, the company last week opened a pop-up or temporary restaurant called the Sabra Hummus House in Washington that serves the company’s dips and spreads.

“We see the potential for growth, because people who try it love it,” Shalit-Shoval said.

In 2013, Sabra opened a “center of excellence” at the Chesterfield plant, which is a research and development site where the company develops new food products.

The research work includes a partnership with Virginia State University aimed at developing better methods for Virginia farmers to grow chickpeas.

In the U.S., chickpeas are mostly produced in the Pacific Northwest.

“I believe in 10 years, many more farmers in the U.S. will grow chickpeas, because there is a need,” Shalit-Shoval said.

Richmond Times-Dispatch. Used by permission.