Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Denver Post: Boulder's Sterling-Rice Group works to know what Americans want to eat

Boulder's Sterling-Rice Group works to know what Americans want to eat
By Douglas Brown
The Denver Post

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They spent the afternoon in a third-floor conference room in downtown Boulder, talking about the ideas emblazoned on dozens of sheets of paper taped to the walls. Hummus doughnut holes. Hummus-coated granola bars. Hummus in sushi and wraps.

Would people buy a "Lunchables" with hummus instead of processed cheese?

For Sabra, the food manufacturer visiting the Sterling-Rice Group, choosing the right path to the future for hummus — the company owns about 55 percent of the national market for the blend of chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon and oil — can make the difference between commercial triumph and corporate collapse.

So the New York company forsakes the 10 gazillion consultants and agencies in Manhattan New flavors of hummus await a taste-test in the Sterling-Rice Group Boulder kitchen. for Sterling-Rice, called SRG, a 140-person shop in Boulder that revolves much of its expertise around helping companies thrive in the tough world of the food marketplace.

"The window of success is getting shorter," said Dennis Peters, Sabra's senior innovation manager. He had flown in the afternoon before, and was taking a red-eye out of Denver that evening; the point of the visit was to figure out ways to grow the product line, particularly in the "grab 'n' go" realm. "If you keep launching things and they don't do well, the retailer begins to wonder if you know what you are doing. The cost of failure is so much greater. That's why we work with SRG."

The company, founded by a pair of guys who worked for Hain Celestial Group in Boulder before starting SRG in 1984, offers clients a variety of traditional advertising services. But it's SRG's fluency in broad consumer trends and how they affect food that especially sets it apart.

Among other things, the SRG crew helps clients peer into the future, to understand how the landscape might look in six months or four years.

It's not soothsaying, exactly. But by leaning on a wide variety of sources and collaborators, the company has a knack for figuring out how people are eating, why, and what it means for the rest of the food bazaar now and in the future.

It helps, too, that the company is based in Boulder.

"I always call Boulder the Silicon Valley of food, and Sterling-Rice is a key part of that," said Steve Hughes, the co-founder of Earth Balance. The Boulder company, which works with SRG, makes healthy butter substitutes, peanut butter and other products.

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Refrigerated and Frozen Foods: Food Plants of the Year

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“Behind every successful company is a good food factory.”

Isn’t that how the saying goes?

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ 2011-12 “Food Plants of the Year” feature demonstrates just how invaluable food plants are to their parent companies. New plants and practices are helping cold food processors assure their customers of regional and national supply, new capabilities and optimum food safety. Likewise, many new facilities are contributing internal benefits. They’re cutting costs, saving energy or using fewer environmental resources

VEGETABLES / SIDE DISHES: Sabra Dipping Company’s new Virginia plant earns accolades, powers product growth and distribution.

Sabra’s new Virginia plant earns accolades, powers product growth and distribution.

Here’s an interesting twist on time and a contrast of old and new. Sabra Dipping Co. has a two-year-old factory in a town (Colonial Heights, Va.) that traces its history back to America’s revolutionary war. Now consider that the factory’s primary product (hummus) is a Mediterranean staple dating back to the 13th century B.C.

Sabra’s new $61 million plant is a sign of the times. Consumer interest in exotic and healthier foods has fueled strong, year-over-year sales gains in refrigerated hummus and other Mediterranean dips and spreads.

Those sales and consumer trends attracted Israel’s Strauss Group to look at the market. In 2005, it partnered with Yehuda Pearl, founder of Sabra Blue & White Foods, a Kosher hummus processor in Queens, N.Y. Continued growth then led PepsiCo and its Frito-Lay subsidiary to join Strauss in 2008 as equal 50-50 partners in Sabra.

Speaking of percentages, Sabra boasted a 10.4 percent dollar share of a an estimated $165 million refrigerated dipsmarket in 2005. Today, Sabra says it controls an even larger dollar share (53.2 percent) of a $419 million category that grew 11.2 percent from the previous year, according to SymphonyIRI data.

Of course, it takes a big factory to supply a category that’s posting double-digit annual growth.

“When Sabra reached about $70 million in annual sales, consumer insights (officials) said we should prepare for continued growth,” says Meiky Tollman, Sabra’s chief of operations. “In 2008, all indicators suggested we build a factory that could serve a business that is four or five times larger and beyond.”

Tollman said it was that same spring (while joining PepsiCo) that Sabra drew up plans with the support of Dennis Group Engineering for a new plant to more than double the capacity of its Astoria, N.Y., site (now closed). The company broke ground in 2009 in Colonial Heights and opened the facility the following April.

For the record, Sabra says its new 115,000-square-foot facility is the world’s largest refrigerated hummus operation (including a 40,000-square-foot finished goods DC). Colonial Heights also is one of the few temperature-controlled food plants to earn LEED Silver certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The facility has eight production lines to process and pack approximately 100 SKUs of refrigerated hummus. It employs 380 people and ships to more than 40,000 U.S. and Canadian retail outlets.

Although Sabra’s headquarters remain in White Plains, N.Y., the company is building a separate 20,000-square-foot “Center of Excellence” in Colonial Heights, Va., to house company headquarters functions for operations, supply chain, R&D, a pilot plant and additional offices. Officials say they expect by 2013 to complete the adjacent facility.

While work continues outside, Tollman focuses his attention inside the plant walls. After all, this March still represents just 21 months of operation.

“In moving to Virginia, we left an older, manual operation for a modern, high-quality factory,” notes Tollman. “The challenge was to increase capacities and food safety measures while keeping our kitchen-fresh taste, flavor, texture and appearance.”

By all accounts, Sabra’s first full year in Colonial Heights was a success. Compared to Astoria, Tollman says the new facility gave Sabra as much as 200-percent capacity increase.

Officials know that employees – not high-priced equipment – will win the day. Pamela Allen, Sabra’s human resources manager, notes that Sabra transferred several Astoria supervisors and introduced a variety of programs to develop its new workforce. Programs include courses in good manufacturing practices, technical skills (from SAP to forklifts), HACCP and OSHA safety steps. Sabra also provides leadership and team-building skills, harassment training and continuous improvement forums.

“Our biggest success involves people,” says Allen. “We managed to hire a team that is dedicated and passionate about making great product. We created an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable and knows that it is our future that we are building here – together.”

Of course there aren’t many opportunities to start a new employee culture or food plant. When it came to operations, Brent Fowler, Sabra’s operations director, cannot disclose many details.

Nevertheless, he says Colonial Heights incorporates custom and /or state-of-the-art processing equipment, information technology as well as employee safety and energy efficiency features.

Meanwhile, Rob Mommsen, Sabra’s director of QA, emphasizes food safety.

“We have a clean-in-place (CIP) system that is robust enough to handle the most difficult food safety issues,” he says. “Our product is never exposed to the manufacturing environment, and human hands never touch finished products from the lines until they are in hermetically sealed packaging.”

Mommsen says the plant has a custom, four-cycle sanitation system from the chickpea cookers to the finished product filling equipment. Integrated CIP controls along every step of the process clean and sanitize. It also includes CIP of all tanks located on site.

How about another hands-free operation? Mommsen says one of several 2012 automation projects will involve packaging. Sabra will install and integrate more end-of-line machinery to eliminate manual product handling and case packing.

“Behind every strong brand is a strong plant,” concludes Tollman. “We plan to continue our growth in the marketplace and now have the plant to do so.”

At A Glance

Company: Sabra Dipping Co. LLC Food plant(s) honored: Colonial Heights, Va. Selection criteria: Food safety, process innovation, environmental (LEED Silver certification) Employees: Approximately 260 Facility size: 115,000 square feet Products: Refrigerated hummus, salsas, veggie dips, guacamole and vegetarian sides.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

US Weekly

Monday, March 19, 2012

Life and Style Magazine: Stars Hit the Town

Stars Hit the Town
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March 19, 2012

A couple of the hottest celebrity sightings:

Co-stars Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks and Josh Hutcherson mingling at The Hunger Games afterparty at L.A. Live, where partygoers munched on hummus at the Sabra gourmet food truck.

Victor Cruz, member of the Super Bowl-winning New York Giants, all smiles chatting with John Legend's fiancée, model Chrissy Teigen, at Old Spice's launch event for new scents Champion and Danger Zone.

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills stars Taylor Armstrong, Adrienne Maloof and Kyle Richards hanging out at a benefit for the 1736 Family Crisis Center held at the home of Dana Wilkey.

Football legend Jerry Rice partying with Life & Style astrologer Terry Nazon at the DeBartolo Family Foundation fundraising gala in Tampa, Fla. Photo credit: Startraks; R/R (2)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Healthy Superbowl Snacks with Julie Upton

Appetite for Health National Segment: CBS New York, CW Good Day Sacramento, NBC Indianapolis, NBC News 12 Phoenix, ABC Vegas Morning Blend, WGN Chicago, Fox Hartford, Fox 6 Milwaukee, Newswatch, Daily Buzz, WLFA-TV

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Drug Store News: Sabra expands Garden Variety hummus line

Drug Store News

Sabra expands Garden Variety hummus line
February 1, 2012 | By Allison Cerra
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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Sabra has added Southwest and Tuscan Herb hummus flavors to its portfolio. The flavors are part of the brand's Garden Variety line, the company said. Southwest hummus features corn, black beans and jalapeño peppers, while the Tuscan Herb combines red peppers, tomatoes, carrots and spinach with Sabra's smooth hummus.

The new products will first appear on shelves in February and will be rolled out nationwide in coming months.

"We are really excited about the new flavors in the Garden line. Initial retail and consumer reaction has been very strong," Sabra chief marketing officer Ken Kunze said. "Consumers love Sabra hummus and look to the brand to bring them a little food adventure. The new flavors are a fresh take on hummus inspired by gardens from around the world. As the market leader, we are looking to take the category to the next level."

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bon Appetit Blog: Is Homemade Hummus Worth the Effort?

January 31, 2012

Is Homemade Hummus Worth the Effort?
In our column Fake It or Make It we test a homemade dish against its prepackaged counterpart to find out what's really worth cooking from scratch.

Those of you getting ready to host a crowd of hungry football fans this weekend may be looking towards hummus as a lighter alternative to the bacony, creamy, cheesy explosion that is the rest of your Super Bowl Sunday menu. We applaud you! Hummus is not only delicious, but also loaded with protein, fiber, vitamin C, and lots of other virtuous nutrients. Making your own hummus from scratch can be as simple as combining chickpeas and a few other ingredients in a food processor and pressing "puree"; but then again, with all the solid store-bought options out there, would anyone even notice the difference? Our testers weigh in.

The Contenders
Sabra Classic Hummus vs. Bon Appetit's Hummus and Crudites

Hummus is a cold dip or spread traditionally made from pureed chickpeas, sesame, lemon juice, and olive oil that hails from the eastern Mediterranean. It's thought to date back as far as 13th Century Egypt, and remains a dietary staple in Levantine countries including Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. Once dismissed by mainstream America as a hippie health food, hummus's popularity as a low-fat, protein-rich snack food has skyrocketed here since the 90s. It's now available on supermarket shelves everywhere, and the category includes a profusion of non-traditional flavors ranging from roasted red pepper to--believe it or not--"buffalo style."

Relative Costs
Homemade is slightly cheaper. I paid $2.99 for a 1-cup container of Sabra's hummus, and around $2.50 for ingredients to make 1 1/2 cups of homemade.

Relative Healthfulness
Slight edge to homemade. Both dips are made primarily from chickpeas and plant oils and are therefore nutritious and low in fat, but the store-bought version does contain citric acid and potassium sorbate as preservatives.

Time Commitment
It took me 10 minutes to make hummus from scratch. 

Leftovers Potential
Homemade hummus can be kept refrigerated for up to a week; Sabra indicates that their hummus is safe to eat until the expiration date on the packaging, which is typically about two weeks after purchase.

What The Testers Said
First let me introduce our panel.

THE HEALTH NUT A delicate eater, the health nut is calorie conscious but also likes to eat well
THE FOODIE Calorie agnostic, our foodie judge has a sophisticated palate and a love of cooking
THE DUDE Ambivalent toward food trends and health concerns, this guy just wants to be fed when he's hungry
THE KID Between ages of 9 and 12 years old, not jaded, typically not into strong flavors

Testers sampled both varieties blind, alone and with carrot and celery crudites. Not everyone correctly guessed which dip was homemade, and the panel generally struggled to choose a favorite.

The Health Nut: Homemade; "You can really taste the lemon and olive oil, which gives it a sense of freshness. I also like the slightly lighter consistency."

The Foodie: Store-bought; "I like the nuttier flavor of the store-bought, as well as its thicker, more substantial texture."

The Kid: Store-bought; "The other is kind of sour."

The Dude: No preference. "Honestly, I would happily eat either of these. I can tell that one is more lemony than the other but I don't have a real preference."

The Verdict
Fake it. Save your energy for homemade guacamole. Hummus may be cheap and easy to make, but the store-bought version is just as good as what you whip together from canned chickpeas in a food processor. --Elizabeth Gunnison

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Monday, December 5, 2011

Food & Food Equipment News: Sabra Introduces 'Season's Finest' Hummus

Sabra Introduces 'Season's Finest' Hummus
Special Edition Rosemary, Olive Oil & Sea Salt Hummus Arrives Just in Time for the Holidays
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Sabra Dipping Co., the country's leading hummus manufacturer, today announced it has released its first ever limited edition hummus for the holiday season. Made with only the finest premium ingredients, the Rosemary, Olive Oil and Sea Salt flavor of Season's Finest hummus has all the deliciousness of Sabra's smooth Classic hummus with a special festive touch.

The task of choosing Sabra's first ever limited edition hummus fell upon the 2011 Sabra Tastemaker panel, a group of influential bloggers, food lovers, and thought leaders who provide feedback to the company. Through a blind taste test, the panel determined that the Rosemary, Olive Oil and Sea Salt hummus was the most delicious and appropriate for the holiday season.

"We're proud to introduce this special edition hummus just in time for holiday entertaining," said Ken Kunze, Chief Marketing Officer for Sabra. "We review feedback from our consumers, and are excited about letting our Tastemaker panel represent them and choose this new flavor for the market. The robust and creamy blend is really delicious."

Featuring a specially designed metallic foil packaging, Season's Finest hummus comes table-ready from the grocery store. The hummus's label features a seasonal design, making it perfect to serve at parties and family gatherings, or as the ideal holiday hostess gift.

Season's Finest hummus can be found in the 17-ounce size at grocery stores in the Pacific Northwest, New England and New York metro area, and in the 25-ounce size at Sam's Clubs nationwide through early January. All varieties of Sabra Hummus are gluten free and certified kosher.

For more information about Sabra's new products, please visit

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Simple & Delicious: My Simple Pleasures

October/November 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Monday, October 3, 2011

Vital Juice: Spread 'em!

Spread 'Em!
Fall for Sabra's new veggie dips.
August 25, 2011

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Hummus tends to be our go-to condiment.

But we have a new crush. We use it as a dip for crudités, spread it on sandwiches instead of mayo and slather it on bagels instead of cream cheese.

Sabra Greek Style Veggie Dips are cool and creamy. Since they're made with thick Greek yogurt, they have the consistency of sour cream...without the extra fat. They're all-natural, lowfat, kosher and contain about 30 to 40 calories per serving. And they come in four fun flavors. (This one's our fave.)

Make them main-dish worthy this Chicken Kebabs recipe.

Find them at a store near you.

Take a dip.

Know fit foodie? Share this news! Foodie Friday: Sabra Greek Yogurt Veggie Dips

Foodie Friday: Sabra Greek Yogurt Veggie Dips
Health editors taste test the latest in healthy eats
September 1, 2011
Eating Well/ Snacks
By Sarah DiGiulio

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Picnics scream for chips and dip (and veggies, too). These yogurt-based grocery-aisle picks keep the calories slim and the flavor full.

The product: Sabra Greek Yogurt Veggie Dips in Roasted Garlic, Spinach & Artichoke, Sun Dried Tomato, and Onion & Fresh Herbs ($3.99 for 10 ounces; available at grocery stores nationwide)

The taste factor: Roasted onion, sautéed garlic, and fresh parsley keep the classic-flavored Onion and Fresh Herb dip zesty. And the chopped veggies in Spinach & Artichoke keep the standby tasting fresh. For a Mediterranean bite, try the tangy Sun Dried Tomato with fresh pita.

The health factor: The nutrition labels on these picks let you dip with ease. Low-fat, Greek-style yogurt keeps them light—fewer than 40 calories for 2 tablespoons for each flavor (about a third the calories of similar sour-cream-based varieties) and just 1.5 grams of fat. Bonus: The yogurt swap saves you 100 milligrams of sodium, too.

Editor’s pick: I couldn’t stop dipping into the Spinach & Artichoke; try red peppers for a refreshing crunch. Leftovers? Spread into a pita pocket with hummus and extra veggies for a quick, light lunch.

Why we love it: Get the dips you love without the calorie- and fat-splurge!

Specialty Food News: New Product News

New Product News
May 6, 2011

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Sabra Dipping Company will enter several new categories, introducing lines of salsa, guacamole and Greek yogurt-based vegetable dips under the Sabra brand. The company will also expand its hummus line with two new flavors.

RFF Retailer: 2011 All-Star Team Product Awards

2011 All-Star Team Product Awards
by Rich Mitchell
August 11, 2011

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If there is a certainty in the refrigerated and frozen foods merchandising sector, it is that forecasting the top-growing brands in each category is, and will always remain, an exercise in uncertainty.

With such variables as a shifting economy, evolving shopper lifestyles, changing taste preferences and the rollout of new selections, merchandisers face a constant product positioning challenge.

To assist retailers in pinpointing the items with significant revenue-generating potential, Refrigerated & Frozen Foods Retailer is presenting its annual All-Star Team Product Awards.

The awards are based on dollar and unit sales data compiled by SymphonyIRI Group—a Chicago-based market research firm—for the 52 weeks ending May 15, 2011.

Analysis was done on the top-10 brands based on dollar sales in approximately 200 refrigerated and frozen categories.

While many brands are consistently the top revenue generators for their respective categories, most of those leaders are not recipients of a 2011 All-Star Team Product Award because of negligible sales growth compared to the year-earlier period.

Award-winning products are recognized in four classes:

• The MVP is given to brands with the largest dollar volumes in their respective categories and at least a 10-percent increase in both dollar and unit sales.

• Grand Slam awards are bestowed on brands that had a 100-percent or more increase in both dollar and unit sales. • The Home Run is for brands with at least a 10-percent increase in both dollar and unit sales.

• Rookie of the Year spotlights the newer brands that are among the top-10 dollar sales generators in their respective categories.

With new products consistently being launched, and some suppliers likely to discontinue items despite their appearance in the top-10 listings, the 2011 All-Star Team Product Awards are just a snapshot of a moment in time. But such moments can pay great dividends to merchandisers who are able to detect and leverage the hottest-selling selections....

Flavored Spreads

Sabra Dipping Co. LLC: Home Run, MVP Summer Fresh Salads: Home Run

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RFF Retailer: That's Greek To Me

That's Greek To Me
by Rich Mitchell
June 1, 2011

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For many shoppers, Mediterranean eating is healthy eating.

And that is having a powerful halo effect on the refrigerated spreads and dips sector.

Refrigerated spreads revenues were up 22.2 percent and unit sales grew 24.6 percent for the 52 weeks ending March 20, 2011 compared to the year-earlier period, reports SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm. The sales breakdown reveals that Mediterranean-oriented products are key category drivers.

The leading refrigerated spreads supplier, Sabra Dipping Co. LLC, White Plains, N.Y., had revenues of $183.1 million, up 43.1 percent for the year ending March 20.

Revenues for spreads from Taunton, Mass.-based Tribe Mediterranean Foods Inc. totaled $44.8 million, up 9.4 percent. “The Mediterranean diet is considered a healthier diet,” says Marcia Schurer, president of Culinary Connections, a Chicago-based food market research and consulting firm. “And foods from regions that border the Mediterranean Sea usually have a great taste profile that appeals to most consumers.”

Hummus is perhaps the most popular Mediterranean dip and spread. It typically is made with such ingredients as mashed chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic.

Schurer notes that increasing demand for hummus is resulting in larger arrays of flavors, and suppliers also are starting to produce additional types of dips and spreads, including tzatziki and baba ghanouj... Read More

Refrigerated and Frozen Foods: Sabra to expand refrigerated profile

Sabra to expand refrigerated profile

Posted: May 6, 2011

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Refrigerated hummus processor Sabra Dipping Company LLC, White Plains, N.Y., said it plans to expand its refrigerated product line and enter several new categories with Sabra fresh salsa, guacamole and Greek yogurt-based vegetable dips. A joint venture between PepsiCo and Strauss Group, Sabra also said it will also expand its hummus line with two new flavors.

"Consumers are broadening their food horizons and seeking a variety of fresh, healthy and authentic foods and snacks," said Ken Kunze, chief marketing officer. "Sabra has been on trend with hummus and is now expanding into more vegetable-based snacks. What Sabra brings to the table is a fresh approach to some authentic favorites by tapping into the flavors of the world while delivering the same quality and superior taste that has become synonymous with the Sabra name. We are thrilled to give consumers an opportunity to discover new experiences of the world right at their table."

Kunze said Sabra is preparing a national, summertime roll-out of ...

... Sabra salsa

Sabra will launch its Salsa line in four flavors: Classic, Southwestern Style, Home-style, and Chunky Pico de Gallo. Officials say Sabra Salsa will come in convenient, dip-friendly, recyclable and attractive bowls making it easy to serve. All varieties of Sabra Salsas are fat free, gluten free and kosher. The salsas will be available in the refrigerated section of the deli aisle at club stores and supermarkets nationwide.

... Sabra Greek yogurt veggie dips

Four new flavors include Roasted Garlic, Spinach and Artichoke, Sun Dried Tomato and Onion & Fresh Herbs. Officials say the new offerings will "provide a much needed, great tasting alternative to fattening sour cream based white dips" with 67 percent fewer calories and 88 percent less fat than the leading sour cream dip. The veggie dips will be available in the refrigerated section of the deli aisle, where Sabra products are sold.

... Sabra guacamole

Sabra says two new offerings, Classic and Spicy guacamole, use an "authentic recipe of all natural Guacamole made fresh from Mexican-grown Hass avocados." Like Sabra's other products, the guacamole will come ready-to-serve, dip-friendly, recyclable containers. Sabra Guacamole is all natural, gluten free and kosher and can be found in the refrigerated section of the deli aisle.

Officials also announced two new hummus flavor additions: Basil Pesto Hummus and a Buffalo Style Hummus.

Sabra said it operates one of the country's only a silver LEED-certified factories in Colonial Heights, Va., and in 2011 received an A-Classification from the British Retail Consortium audit board for food safety for its Oceanside, Calif., plant.

Self: Healthy Food Awards

June 2011
View Article

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Love Eat Run: Newbies

September 20, 2011
View Article

Today’s lunch post is going to be a quick one but I definitely wanted to get it in to share a couple new finds with you.

1. Sabra Greek Style Veggie Dip – Spinach and Artichoke.

Remember how I came across this Greek yogurt dip in the onions and fresh herbs flavor on my last grocery shopping trip and fell in love with it? So, you can only imagine my excitement last night to find a different flavor at the store to try. I’m a big spinach and artichoke dip fan so I’m hoping this will live up to the high standards that Sabra already set!

I’m going to have some this afternoon as a snack and I’ll be sure to let you know how it is!

2. Sabra Buffalo Style Hummus.

I love buffalo sauce and I love hummus so this was an obvious choice when I was decided which flavor hummus to purchase last night. I couldn’t wait to test taste it as well so it was incorporated into today’s lunch!

Speaking of lunch…another sampler plate made the cut. An apple with Saratoga Peanut Butter Company Blizzard Butter, carrots with buffalo hummus and a rice cake topped with buffalo hummus as well.

The Blizzard Butter is Saratoga PB Co.’s white chocolate peanut butter flavor and when eaten with today’s Macintosh apple, I felt like I was eating a caramel apple. Not sure why the white chocolate gave the flavor of caramel but, hey, I’m not complaining!!

Thoughts on the buffalo hummus? LOVE! It was your typical creamy Sabra hummus with just the right amount of buffalo sauce spiciness added in. Perfect hummus flavor for football season, in my opinion!! If you are looking for a new hummus flavor to try – this could be your winner!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Frozen & Dairy Buyer: Dynamic Dips

Dynamic Dips
March 9, 2011

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The dips and spreads segment is heading South — of the border, that is. According to Chicago-based market research firm SymphonyIRI Group, supermarket dollar sales of refrigerated flavored spreads, a subcategory dominated by hummus, jumped 18.8% to $84.41 million during the 12 weeks ended Jan. 23, 2011. And while dips edged up only 1.4% to $119.52 million, three top-ten brands with “Mexican flair” — Wholly Guacamole (+13.1%), Yucatan (+9.2%) and Gordo’s (+16.9%) posted strong gains. The subcategory saw a decline in volume sold with merchandising support.

“Refrigerated dips may have lost some customers and market share to healthier dips like hummus,” says vp of sales Dominick Frocione of Ward Hill, Mass.-based Cedar’s Mediterranean Foods (www.cedarsfoods. com). But the recent introduction of better-for-you Greek yogurt-based dips by several players may spark new growth.

Opinions vary about where to merchandise the new dips. For example, reports Emily Alfano, senior marketing manager at Carrollton, Texas-based Future Foods (, Kroger merchandises the company’s recently repackaged Santa Barbara Bay brand Greek yogurt-based dips in the deli, where its high-end dips have always been. But new customer H-E-B plans to stock them in the dairy. While it’s too soon to compare the two approaches, Alfano thinks shoppers at many retailers may be more likely to look for these products next to Greek yogurt in the dairy section, which also has higher traffic than the deli.

But John McGuckin, exec vp of sales at Astoria, N.Y.-based Sabra Dipping Co. (, which will roll out its new line of Greek yogurt-based dips to the East Coast April 15, favors the deli. “SymphonyIRI figures show that 65% of total dip dollars come through the deli. That’s where consumers look for those types of products,” he says, adding that Sabra plans to merchandise its new fresh salsa line in the deli section as well (the company recently acquired fresh salsa manufacturer California Creative Foods, maker of the Chachi’s and Santa Barbara brands).

Frocione prefers that his products be sold in the deli, but cautions that some retailers take too-high margins in that department, which hurts trial.

Some manufacturers are reducing package sizes to keep prices down. For example, Future Foods recently downsized its core lineup, including its Greek yogurt-based dips, from 12 to 9 ounces to keep shelf prices below $4.

Columbus, Ohio-based T. Marzetti ( sells its new Otria Greek Yogurt Veggie Dips in the produce department. According to senior marketing manager for produce dips Mary Beth Cowardin, placement of the product among fresh fruit and vegetables highlights its better-for-you nutritional profile and encourages consumers to view it more as a healthy, everyday snack rather just than just a party or special occasion dip.

While dips appear to be getting the real estate they need, “Hummus is way under-spaced,” leading to out of stocks up to 40% in some places, says McGuckin. “And when it’s promoted for an event like the Super Bowl, retailers can easily be out of stock in a day.”

But more space doesn’t necessarily mean more SKUs. McGuckin notes that “It’s about SKU optimization, not SKU proliferation. The category is growing so fast that some retailers think they need lots of SKUs, but what they really need is more space for the top-selling SKUs,” he continues. “There are some stores, particularly in New England, that carry all kinds of SKUs, but the good ones sell out quickly and consumers are left with brands and flavors they’re not interested in, which leads to disappointment” — not to mention spoilage.

But don’t consumers want variety? Of course, answers McGuckin, pointing to Sabra’s ever-expanding lineup, including two new flavors, Basil Pesto and Buffalo. He points out, however, that 70% of the brand’s sales are represented by just five flavors.

But sales figures don’t tell the whole story. Frocione warns against focusing entirely on syndicated data rather than innovation and differentiation new products can bring.

A little more variety could do wonders in the refrigerated dip category, which is plagued by unnecessary duplication, says Alfano, who reports visiting a store that stocked six different French Onion Dips, three of which were the chain’s own brands.

Shoppers are always on the lookout for new flavors, particularly those they’ve sampled in restaurants, agrees Elizabeth Underhill, marketing manager for H.P. Hood’s Heluva Good refrigerated dip brand (www.heluvagood. com).To meet demand for something new and create a little excitement, she continues, the Lynnfield, Mass.-based company added two varieties last year: White Cheddar & Bacon and Garlic & Parmesan. And it plans to introduce a limited edition Buffalo Wing Dip later this month.

Cross-promoting dips and spreads with items that go with them helps build sales and expand the customer base, manufacturers agree. McGuckin reports that “We’ve done a lot of tie-ins with Stacy’s (pita chips), but those are the same consumers who already buy our product.” With household penetration still below 11%, he adds, “We’re really not yet reaching mainstream U.S. consumers.” As a result, he continues, “We think the next step is more tie-ins with ‘conventional’ Frito-Lay snacks (PepsiCo and Frito-Lay own a 50% stake in Sabra).” Retailers can also tie dips and spreads to products that can expand their usage. Consumers are always looking for new serving ideas, whether putting dip a sandwich or burger, on a baked potato or atop a bowl of chili,” says Underhill. Cross-merchandising or promoting it with one of those products is a great way to give consumers new serving suggestions.

Another key, says Cowardin, is to promote the category year-round, not just during the holidays. “Retailers may increase sales by recognizing opportunities to promote dips and spreads throughout the year — as a midday snack with pita chips or as an addition to tried-and-true dinner recipes like pasta salad.”

McGuckin notes, however, that hummus doesn’t need a lot of promotional help. If given enough space, “It sells very well off the shelf. Just because it’s a hot category doesn’t necessarily mean you have to promote like you would, say, soda during the Super Bowl.”

Supermarket dollar sales of prepared salads, fruit and coleslaw slid 8.7% during the 12 weeks ended Jan. 23, 2011, according to Chicago-based market research firm SymphonyIRI Group. Del Monte’s Fruit Naturals and Sun Fresh brands posted double-digit losses, but five of the remaining eight top-ten brands saw gains.

There has been strong and growing interest in regional flavor profiles, reports Teresa Carter, category manager for salads and dips at Beaverton, Ore.- based Reser’s Fine Foods (www.resers. com). As a result, Reser’s is debuting three Amish potato salad varieties to its East Coast customers. To gain trial, she suggests including the newcomers in pay-one-price meal deals that combine low-margin items like rotisserie chicken with higher-margin prepared salads — also a great way to boost sales during non-peak selling seasons.

“Consumers are willing to buy (prepared) salads…virtually year round,” she explains, “but retailers don’t strategically promote or stock the category year round,” leading to missed opportunities. She urges retailers to watch the promotional calendar to have enough product on hand during peak periods.

Carter also suggests carrying a national brand along with a private label to highlight the value associated with the store brand and offer comparison shoppers a choice. Such strategy also allows retailers to alternate promotional activity in order to better manage margins. “Retailers that stock two brands are more successful than those that offer only private label,” she concludes.

To help meet demand for betterfor- you products, Medina, Ohio-based Sandridge Food Corp. (www.sandridge. com) is launching a line of prepared salads that promise “no preservatives” or “no preservatives added.” The salads are produced using a high pressure processing (HPP) system that uses cold water under high pressure to kill bacteria, eliminating the need for chemical preservatives.

RFF Retailer: Dips Go Hip

Dips Go Hip
Vanessa L. Facenda
June 20, 2011

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Gone are the days of artificially flavored and colored dips sitting on retail shelves.

Dip quality is improving as consumers demand fresher, higher-quality and better-tasting products.

“We are seeing a trend away from dips that are made with fillers, stabilizers and oils,” says Jon Levy, senior associate brand manager for Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods Inc. “The products are becoming fresher and less processed.”

Greater shopper interest in dips that are better-tasting, healthier, ethnic-oriented and exotic is spurring innovations as merchandisers work to jumpstart sales.

Refrigerated dip revenues totaled $460.6 million for the 52 weeks ending April 17, 2011, up 1.74 percent from the year-earlier period, reports SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm. Unit sales were 184 million, up 0.38 percent.

In its 2010 State of the Snack Industry Report, SymphonyIRI Group notes that 55 percent of consumers are more likely to eat what tastes good rather than what is healthier.

Yet, it also notes that 71 percent of consumers are trying to eat healthier, and that the healthier and indulgent snack segments have had annual growth rates of 4.4 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively.

Kraft is among the suppliers focusing on wellness. The company in April began rolling out sour cream dips under the Breakstone’s and Knudsen brands that are made with real sour cream and no oils, Levy says.

The four varieties—French Onion, Ranch, Southwest and Buffalo—are available in 16-ounce containers with a suggested retail price of $2.99.

Sea Gold Seafood Products, New Bedford, Mass., also is emphasizing wellness with its line of seafood-based dips, says Michael Trazzera, chief executive officer.

The company, which is leveraging shoppers’ perception of seafood as a healthier alternative, is marketing Cajun Seafood & Crab Dip, Seafood & Shrimp Scampi Dip, and Buttered Seafood & Lobster Dip.

The suggested retail price for the 7-ounce containers, which are typically merchandised in specialty coolers in seafood departments, is $2.99 to $3.99.

Salsa- and yogurt-based dips are also being positioned as better-for-you offerings.

Sabra Dipping Co., New York, for instance, is rolling out all-natural Greek Veggie dips that are made with Greek yogurt and low in fat. Varieties include Roasted Garlic, Spinach and Artichoke, Sundried Tomato and Onion, and Fresh Herbs.

The company claims that the dips have 67-percent fewer calories and 88-percent less fat than the leading sour cream dip.

The items are available in 10-ounce containers and have a suggested retail price of $3.59 to $4.59. In addition, Sabra also is launching all-natural Salsa in four flavors: Chunky Pico de Gallo, Classic, and Homestyle in 16-ounce containers, and Southwestern Style in a 14-ounce container.

All varieties are fat free, gluten free and kosher.

The suggested retail prices are $3.49 to $3.99.

Also offering new selections is T. Marzetti Co., Columbus, Ohio, including Otria-branded Greek Yogurt Veggie Dip in 8.75-ounce packages with a suggested retail price of $3.49.

Such items are becoming prevalent as snacking expands into more food categories.

“Peoples’ perceptions of dips are shifting,” says Mary Beth Cowardin, T. Marzetti senior marketing manager, produce dips. “The products are being seen as not only a party platter option, but also as an everyday snack. Consumers are eating small meals more frequently throughout the day and veggies with dip or hummus is being perceived as a health and wellness alternative.”

Carlos Canals, president and chief executive officer of Taunton, Mass.-based Tribe Hummus, notes that hummus also is increasingly being used as both an ingredient and on-the-go snack.

Hummus typically is low in fat, and high in fiber and protein.

“Hummus is great with fresh vegetables so it is a healthy meal option, and an easy way to increase vegetable consumption,” Canals states.

“The culinary experience is driving the category,” adds Jerry Goldner, Tribe director for customer marketing. “Consumers’ desire to have more exotic flavors and the Mediterranean aspect of hummus is an allure.”

Tribe is offering 21 selections of hummus in either organic or all-natural varieties in three lines: Classic, Organic, and Origins.

Origins uses a special tahini, is smoother, and features toppings such as Spicy Red Pepper and Tomato and Garlic. Products range in size from 8 ounces to 16 ounces with suggested retail prices of $2.99 to $4.99.

John McGuckin, Sabra executive vice president of sales, says hummus has a large growth potential, noting that its household penetration is just 20 percent, compared to 80 percent for salsa.

“There has been very little marketing for the hummus category,” he states. “Most of it is trade driven, so there is tremendous upside as mainstream marketing increases.”

Sabra offers 14 hummus varieties, including two new flavors: Basil Pesto and Buffalo Style.

Products are available in 10-ounce containers with suggested retail prices of $3.59 to $4.59, and 17-ounce containers with suggested retail prices of $5.99 to $6.99.

Sabra’s hummus line also includes singles—four-packs of 2-ounce containers—that retail for about $3.59.

Also launching new dips is Blount Fine Foods, a Warren, R.I.-based supplier of private-label offerings.

The company’s newest varieties include Panera Bread- and Legal Sea Foods-branded selections in 7-ounce containers with a suggested retail price of $4.99.

Suppliers say that rolling out such added options creates excitement and will boost activity.

“Versatility and new and interesting flavors are all paramount to growth,” Blount’s Sewall says. “Retailers need to stay on trend with product offerings and offer enhanced items.”

McGuckin notes that Sabra wants to create a “dips destination” in the deli, a department in which shoppers are more willing to experiment.

Sea Gold’s Trazzera, meanwhile, says “buy one, get one” promotions and in-store demos also are effective merchandising techniques.

He suggests that retailers also regularly rotate demos to spotlight the range of new products

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Progressive Grocer: Big Dippers

August 2011
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Big Dippers
Chilled dips and spreads such as hummus are proving more popular than ever with health- and flavor-seeking consumers — and manufacturers and retailers stand to reap the rewards.

It's a good time to be in the hummus business. Just ask John McGuckin, VP of sales for White Plains, N.Y.-based Sabra Dipping Co. LLC, a leading brand in the segment. According to McGuckin, Sabra has gone from a $10 million company to one worth $300 million in a mere six years — all because of the Mediterranean chickpea-based concoction.

What's more, the company enjoyed phenomenal double-digit sales dollar and sales unit growth for the 52 weeks ending June 12, according to figures from Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group for food, drug and mass merchandisers, as more and more consumers discovered hummus' nutritious properties — it's high in both fiber and protein — and delicious taste. Overall, SymphonyIRI's hummus-dominated refrigerated flavored spreads category turned in an impressive performance at food, drug and mass during the same period, with dollar sales and sales units up 20.4 percent and 21.5 percent, respectively. McGuckin's assessment goes straight to the heart of the matter: "Hummus is the gold of the entire dip category."

The main reason for this is greater consumer interest. "We're capturing a lot of new users," notes McGuckin, adding that Sabra is successfully overturning the perception once held by many consumers that dips are unhealthy with its line of better-for-you products. "People are looking for dips that taste good and are highly flavorful, but healthy," he observes. "You have to have both now." Still, McGuckin admits that there's "a long way to go" before hummus is a staple in every American fridge.

Among the ways that Sabra hopes to accomplish that goal is through a TV advertising campaign recently launched in select markets. "Share the World" shows how the brand unites people in the same way that it brings together ingredients from around the globe, including tahini from the Middle East and chickpeas from the northwestern United States and Canada. The company has additionally introduced two new varieties, Basil Pesto and Buffalo Style, both of which illustrate the continuing evolution of hummus as a product tailored to American consumers' tastes.

Other hummus manufacturers are taking advantage of the product's newfound popularity as well. Although, as Sabra's McGuckin notes, hummus and other dips perform especially well during such key occasions as Super Bowl, July 4, Labor Day and the winter holidays, "[d]ipping is not just for entertaining anymore," asserts Jerry Goldner, VP North American sales at Taunton, Mass.-based Tribe Mediterranean Foods, which offers 15 varieties of blended hummus and seven varieties of topped hummus, each one all natural. "With many consumers eating small meals throughout the day, and with dip offerings becoming increasingly healthy, dips are the perfect option to have with vegetables, crackers or pretzels as a quick, easy snack or meal."

Last month, Tribe introduced refreshed product packaging for its entire line, as well as four new flavors: South American-inspired Cilantro Chimichurri, a zesty blend of fresh cilantro and spices; Olive Tapenade, containing chopped Mediterranean olives with a savory herb kick; Savory Mushroom, featuring a rich assortment of spices; and Mediterranean Style, with a light drizzle of olive oil and a dusting of paprika on top of classic hummus. All products now come in 8-ounce containers with see-through green lids, and some flavors are also available in 16-ounce tubs. "We unified our robust product portfolio under a single design and package, making it easier than ever for consumers to spot their favorite flavors and view the hummus inside," explains Goldner.

At Cedar's Mediterranean Foods in Ward Hill, Mass., meanwhile, the focus is on making the company's all-natural hummus even healthier, through the addition of items featuring the patented GanedenBC30 probiotic from Cleveland-based Ganeden Biotech, along with what's being touted as the world's first probiotic-fortified wrap.

"Consumers are trying to eat healthier, and we see the addition of GanedenBC30 to some of our core items as a line extension and as an extra added benefit that many consumers will be looking at as a point of differentiation," noted Dominic Frocione, VP of sales at Cedar's, which also makes yogurt dips. The probiotic-enhanced items are slated to roll out this autumn.

Creating a 'Dip Destination'
When it comes to promoting hummus and other dips, manufacturers agree that "tasting is believing," as Cedar's Frocione says. "If a retailer can do a well-coordinated demo, we will all see positive growth," he adds, referring to the overall hummus segment.

"[S]ampling is by far the most effective type of merchandising for Tribe Hummus," concurs Goldner. "Once consumers try Tribe Hummus, they love it — so sampling is a very effective way of bringing new users in."

Sabra's McGuckin maintains that sampling is crucial in overcoming many consumers' unfamiliarity with the product despite its higher profile, a circumstance he vividly labels "the 'ick' factor." Sampling can also give shoppers creative new ideas on how to include hummus in recipes or the way it's often used throughout the Mediterranean region, as a sandwich spread.

Another promotional slam-dunk is to place the product near such obvious accompanying items as pita chips, wraps and the like. "Cross-merchandising with complementary products also works well for us," observes Goldner. "We often seek to partner with other natural snack brands, and this has been an excellent way for us to reach new consumers."

One recent example of brand cooperation involved a sports tie-in. "This past winter, we executed a major national in-store promotion with [Snack Factory] Pretzel Crisps around the March Madness theme," recounts Goldner. "The program was very successful for both brands, and we are planning a similar program early this fall with a football theme. On a wider scale, Tribe Hummus works to consistently provide retailers with value-added promotions that help support and grow the hummus category."

In the realm of merchandising, Sabra has embarked on a plan to showcase its hummus and other products (more on those below) by positioning them through advertising as a "Dip Destination" within the deli department. McGuckin points out that the "experiential nature" of the deli section lends itself to a "treasure hunt mentality" on the part of consumers looking to meet entertainment needs, which the company is eager to foster through its range of items.

Beyond Hummus
In a bid to "enhance brand position and equity," as McGuckin puts it, Sabra is additionally moving beyond just the hummus segment with the introduction of fresh salsa, guacamole and Greek yogurt lines in a variety of flavors. A particular focus, according to McGuckin, is on popularizing fresh salsa, which right now represents just 8 percent of the salsa segment. Made with real, skin-on California tomatoes and fresh-cut vegetables, Sabra's salsa, which comes in Classic, Southwestern Style, Home-style and Chunky Pico de Gallo varieties, is "vibrant and flavorful," he notes, while the Greek yogurt dips feature fresh veggies, herbs and spices in four savory flavors, and the authentic guacamole boasts Mexican-grown Hass avocadoes in both of its SKUs.

Ongoing Flavor Innovation
For the dips and spreads category in general, and hummus, in particular, the sky appears to be the limit as long as new variations continue to captivate shoppers. "[F]lavor innovation will continue to be the driving force behind the hummus category," says Tribe's Goldner, whose observations could apply to all dips and spreads. "While consumers will always purchase traditional flavors of hummus ... they also look to the category to provide new and interesting flavor experiences. Consumers are broadening their culinary horizons, so delivering high-quality, unique flavor varieties will only become even more important."

Reflecting on the recent massive success of hummus, which has served his company so well, Sabra's McGuckin quips: "The only other category that's comparable is Greek yogurt, and now we're involved in that, too."

Self Magazine: The Cool Crowd

Everday with Rachael Ray

Monday, August 1, 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011

Self: Healthy Food Awards

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Domestic Chicky: My Mom 2.0 Experience

My Mom 2.0 Experience

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I haven’t been to a blog conference before that I wasn’t speaking at or volunteering at, so going to Mom 2.0 was going to be new for me. I was fortunate enough to have my trip sponsored by Sabra, and I can’t thank them enough for the experience.

I began my trip bright and early, and arrived in New Orleans in the afternoon. I was lucky enough to have a very chatty cab driver, who gladly pointed out the sights along the way, and suggested activities outside the conference to check out.

My hotel was a few blocks from the Ritz, where the conference was held, but The Queen and Crescent hotel was just what I had in mind – cute, unique, and just blocks from everything. I got settled in and looked forward to the next day.

I checked in to the conference and found a few familiar faces –any nervousness I felt was quickly gone. The sessions and speakers were amazing – I learned so much and it reaffirmed so much of what I was doing with social media and blogging, especially in how I coach my design clients in their own efforts. From branding to video blogging, sponsorship, monetization and design, Mom 2.0 covered all the bases. I have tons of notes I haven’t even begun to re-read and organize, but will share here when I do!

Sabra provided me with some goodies to share with a few friends and I enjoyed spreading information about their company and their yummy products. I loved sharing how they are participating in social media and reaching out to bloggers. They even gave me a sticker for my computer which got more than a couple compliments

On day 2, I was only able to attend one session as my flight was leaving early, but I can’t imagine I could have learned any more or had more fun. Sabra ensured I had a wonderful time, and I am honored to have represented them at the Mom 2.0 conference. I am especially looking forward to sharing with you more experiences with them as a Tastemaker representative, where I will be touring the factory, sharing recipes, giveaways and contests, and participating in other events with them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fit to the Finish: Sabra Giveaway Plus Chocolate Hummus Recipe

Sabra Giveaway Plus Chocolate Hummus Recipe!
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You may remember that I am one of Sabra’s Tastemakers, and they have generously offered to give two of my lucky readers the following prizes!

A really nice thermal coffee mug with a lid, and two VIP coupons for a free Sabra product of your choice (either 8, 10, or 14 ounces!)

Last weekend, in preparation for this giveaway, I purchased two containers of classic Sabra hummus, and made two recipes: Chicken Hummus Wraps and Chocolate Hummus.

The chicken salad wraps were easy. I simply assembled my ingredients, spread the hummus on the whole-wheat wraps and rolled them up – so easy and tasty. Everyone loved, loved, loved them!

Later that afternoon, I worked on the chocolate hummus. I combined 60% finely grated chocolate with hummus and put it in the refrigerator, toasted some unsweetened coconut and did not make my own caramel sauce. Why? Because the recipe for carmel sauce the Sabra chef sent me called for 1 cup of heavy cream, and I just couldn’t do it. So I settled for processed, fat-free (but not sugar/calorie free) caramel sauce. (Sorry Sabra chef!)

I laid out the phyllo cups (so cute and only 12.5 calories per cup). Using the handy two spoon method, I put about 1 tbsp. of the chocolate hummus mixture into each cup. Next, I drizzled the not-homemade caramel sauce on top of each filled phyllo cup. Sometimes it drizzled nicely and other times it kinda clumped. Everyone wanted the ones with the clump of caramel! Then I sprinkled some toasted coconut and grated chocolate pieces on top of each cup. Then I swooshed more caramel on the plate to make it look artistic. I think it looks artistic don’t you?

There you have it. Chicken hummus wraps, chocolate hummus and proof from 10 people that it was all very delicious! Do you want to win some hummus and a great coffee mug? It’s easy and you can have six chances to win.

1. Leave me a comment – any type will do, but I’d love to see what you think of chocolate hummus.
2. Follow me on Facebook.
3. Follow me on Twitter.
4. Follow Sabra on Facebook.
5. Follow Sabra on Twitter.
6. Link this post to your blog and leave me a comment to tell me you did.

Good luck!! This is only open to United States residents (sadly) and I will draw the two winners on Sunday, June 19th. Diane

Disclosure: Sabra gave me a $1.00 off coupon to help offset the purchase of the hummus, but I bought everything else myself.

Fit to the Finish: Sabra Factory Tour Tasting Revealed

Sabra Factory Tour & Tasting Revealed
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If you’ve never tried hummus before, or never made your own – you may not realize that hummus is made from relatively innocuous looking chickpeas that pack a nutritional and flavorful punch. I learned that a medium-sized chickpea makes the best flavored and textured hummus – something for those of you who make you own hummus to look for when you shop for dried peas.

The Sabra Tastemakers Panel made up of these fellow bloggers, arrived at the Factory early on Wednesday morning, where we were greeted with the sign below!

After we signed in and introduced to Mike S., our host for the event, we got to wear very lovely beige lab coats with the Sabra logo, lovely hair nets, clear goggles and hardhats. Sadly, they wouldn’t let us take pictures at that point, but there was a camera crew there filming the whole event!

In the factory, we learned that the factory is Silver-LEEDS certified, which means they have gone through the requirements to reduce energy and waste through things like high R-value insulation and recycling water. We then got to see the sanitation system, the many 1-ton bag of chickpeas waiting to be turned into hummus and taste the chickpea paste after it had been cooked and mashed. (Insider secret – They wouldn’t tell us how many pounds of chickpeas they go through in a year, but two days before we came, they produced 60 tons of hummus in one day!) We walked through the factory, dodging doorways with foaming soap that squirted all over your shoes if you weren’t careful, watching with amazement as the hummus came down the tubes, into the little containers and rolled its way into the packaging room.

Just released Basil-Pesto and Buffalo Style hummus were waiting for us when we got to the Quality Test Kitchen, where we met with Executive Research Chef MaryDawn Wright. She showed us the right way to eat hummus (spoon side down) and let us taste each one. They were fabulous – although the Basil Pesto was definitely my favorite.

As if that first tasting wasn’t enough, we tasted Sabra’s new Homestyle, Classic, Southwestern Style, and Chunky Pico de Gallo salsaflavors, then the Guacamole, in both spicy and classic. The guacamole flavors looked the same, but the spicy had a big kick. And finally, we tasted the greek style yogurt dips in Spinach Artichoke, Roasted Garlic Veggie, and Onions and Fresh Herb. My favorite was the Roasted Garlic Veggie.

I was so full – even though I took tiny bites of chips, hummus, salsa and guacamole. But they weren’t done giving us food. Chef Columbe Jacobsen, former contestant on “The Next Food Network Star” came in and presented us with lunch. All around hummus of course. Here’s where it got really interesting.If you think hummus is just for dipping – prepare to be impressed. First, a Mediterrean Salad with hummus, veggies, pita chips and Sabra Greek Yogurt Dip. Next, a crudité platter for the classic hummus “dipper.” For the meat lovers, a chicken salad wrap with hummus in place of the mayonnaise. And the wraps on the right were my choice, vegetarian wraps with sautéed mushrooms, onions, greens and hummus. Delicious – although I could not eat the whole thing.

If that weren’t enough – Columbe brought in a beautiful blue tray with – ready? Chocolate hummus. No kidding. She combined hummus with grated chocolate, warmed it and added some toasted coconut and homemade caramel for garnishes. I admit I was worried because, it just seemed a little bit wrong. I am a chocolate lover, and this was very different.

I was brave and tried it. At first, I just tasted the chocolate, but with the second little bite, the sharper undertones of the hummus came through. It was very good. I’ll have the recipe soon, and I’ll put it on the site.

Lastly, we got to learn about Sabra’s history and its goal of opening up the tastebuds of Americans around the world. I’m looking forward to experimenting with hummus and I hope you will look forward to participating in an upcoming Sabra giveaway!

Does seeing these dishes make you want to try some new hummus recipes?