Hummus craze spreads across America

The popularity of the high-protein, low-fat food means increased demand for domestically grown chickpeas.

By Benzinga May 1, 2013 3:51PM
 Soybean field copyright Corbis, SuperStockBy Jim Probasco

The boom is on and some U.S. farmers are falling all over themselves to plant this ancient legume that just happens to be a main ingredient in one of the country's fastest growing food crazes.

The legume? The lowly chickpea. The food craze? Hummus -- that creamy, low-fat, Middle Eastern-inspired spread that is quickly replacing French onion dip on the tables of health-conscious Americans everywhere.

Now, according to The Wall Street Journal, the largest U.S. hummus maker is trying to get farmers in the heart of Virginia's tobacco country to grow chickpeas as a secondary source of supplies in case of a crop failure in the Pacific Northwest, where most domestic chickpeas are grown today. 

Sabra Dipping Co., jointly owned by PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) and Israel's Strauss Group Ltd., wants to develop a product source close to its hummus plant near Richmond, as well as be geographically near enough to help in the identification of new chickpea varieties for its dips and spreads.

"We need to establish the supply chain to meet our growing demand," Sabra's chief technology officer, Tulin Tuzel told The Wall Street Journal. "We want to reduce the risk of bad weather or concentration in one region. If possible, we also want to expand the growing seasons."

Hummus, long a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine, is low in fat and high in protein. Because of that, hummus sales have dominated the "refrigerated flavored spreads" segment of the food industry to the tune of $530 million last year. This represents an 11% bump from 2011 and a 25% jump over 2010, according to market-research firm Information Resources Inc.

With those kinds of sales figures, PepsiCo isn't the only big food company showing an interest in chickpeas and hummus. Kraft Foods (KRFT) now owns Athenos, another big hummus brand.

IRI data show Sabra's hummus sales in 2012 were up roughly 18% at about $315 million. However, some retailers, such as Costco Wholesale (COST), don't provide information to IRI, so the figures understate Sabra's retail sales.

As demand for hummus grows, so grows demand for chickpeas. Last year chickpea farmers received an average price of 35 cents a pound for their crop, representing a 10-cent increase over the mid-2000s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Chickpeas are a tiny crop compared to corn or wheat. Last year's U.S. harvest, however, totaled a record 332 million pounds, up 51% from the previous year.

The USDA expects U.S. farmers to plant a record 214,300 acres of chickpeas this year, up 3% from last year and a fivefold increase over a decade ago.

As of this writing, Jim Probasco had no position in any mentioned securities.

More from Benzinga

May 1, 2013 10:23PM
May 2, 2013 12:01PM
You'd think by some of these comments that many of the people on MSN don't get out of their houses very often. Some of you guys don't know what chickpeas are? Seriously? 
May 1, 2013 10:25PM
Of course in the US it will have to be renamed due to the genetically modified engineering that goes on out here. The new name shall be, "Craphummus". :)
May 2, 2013 12:40AM
I have been to Israel four times and learned to eat hummus over and in addition falafel.  I can make both at home.  Almost every market in Peoria, AZ., has the mix in a package.  Sprouts Market carries hummus in plastic containers.  Some markets here have it in cans as well.  There is also a sauce that you put in falafel made from sesame seeds called tahini. 
May 1, 2013 8:28PM
 I ate hummus once, I still don't know why.
May 2, 2013 12:40AM
There is also a new type of hummus made with white beans.  How is this going to affect the chickpea forecast and is it considered to be as good as the chickpea hummus?
May 1, 2013 11:11PM
Go ahead, mix it with garlic cloves and watch your love life dissapear in fumes.
May 2, 2013 7:59AM
I don't know anything about Hummus Angela but Mukluks are the Indian tribe that met the Acadians in Nova Scotia
May 4, 2013 5:01PM
I love me some hummus! Now that 7-11 is carrying the little Sabra pretzel/hummus packs in three varities, life is good!
May 1, 2013 11:32PM
The reason for the hummus "craze" now in the U.S. is do to all the "craze" moving to the U.S.
May 2, 2013 2:16AM
Of course, no one makes hummus right in the States offense, but anyone who's eaten hummus in the Middle East knows that Americans don't do it right. Same with the so-called "Greek" yogurt, and Mexican food.
May 2, 2013 7:19AM
hummus sounds like the name of an all purpose muck cleanser, though i know it is a food commonly eaten by hindus. just fine with me, just please, don't ask me to participate.
May 1, 2013 11:42PM

I thought we could raise plenty of soybeans here, many other beans and alfalfa sprouts

Chick peas and hummus my azz.....

May 1, 2013 8:57PM
I don't eat anything with weird names. Hummus, yogurt, tofu, etc.  You can't tell when yogurt goes bad. 
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