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