Chickpeas: America's new cash crop?
Sabra Dipping Co. — the U.S.'s largest hummus producer and the world's leading commissioner of political hummus heads — is investing heavily in a plan to expand the U.S.'s chickpea farming.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the company is funding research at Virginia State University with hopes of finding a chickpea variety suitable for planting in Virginia's humid climate. Most American chickpea farming is centered in the Pacific Northwest, but Sabra makes its hummus at a plant near Richmond, Va. The company is aiming to protect itself from crop shortages in Idaho and Washington, as well as cut down on shipping expenses.
Sabra's investment is the result of ballooning hummus sales in the U.S. According to the Journal, "Sales of 'refrigerated flavored spreads' — a segment dominated by hummus — totaled $530 million at U.S. food retailers last year, up 11 percent from a year earlier and a 25 percent jump over 2010, according to market-research firm Information Resources Inc."
Sabra, owned both by PepsiCo Inc. and Israel's Strauss Group, hasn't released hard numbers, but IRI shows the company's hummus sales were up 18 percent last year, to $315 million.
It's enough growth to impact agricultural trends: Last year's U.S. chickpea crop totaled 332 million pounds, up 51 percent from the year before. Some tobacco farmers, feeling the drop in demand for cigarettes, are starting to shift to chickpeas.
For anyone who pays attention to snack trends, the meteoric growth of hummus might sound familiar — it's a lot like the recent rise of Greek yogurt, another healthy and delicious snack popular in the Middle East.
In 2012, Greek yogurt sales shot up to $1.6 billion. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2012:
Greek yogurt, overall, has had one of the fastest growth spurts the food and beverage industry has seen in recent history. In each of the last three years, sales of Greek yogurt have boomed more than 100%, while non-Greek yogurt has crept along at single-digit speeds, according to consumer data tracker Nielsen.
Sales at yogurt maker Chobani Inc. — which claims nearly half of the Greek yogurt market share in the U.S. — soared 2,812% in 2008 alone, according to a report from UBS Investment Research. Greek yogurt now hauls in more than $1 billion in revenue a year in the U.S. — about a quarter of total yogurt sales.
If that's any indication of what's in store for hummus, by 2015 we can expect an entire Senate of hummus heads from Sabra.