Sabra Stirs Up the Unexpected

Now the country’s top-selling hummus brand, Sabra was founded in Queens, New York, in 1986—a time when hummus was far outside the mainstream in the U.S., known mostly to vegetarians and people with connections to the Middle East, where the dish was first created some 600 years ago. The story of Sabra’s climb to dominance as a now-global brand is one of mergers and acquisitions. Co-owned by Strauss and Pepsi-Co, it’s a partnership that has resulted in distribution opportunities and global positioning. In 2010, the company relocated its headquarters to Chesterfield, where it continued to grow. A line of guacamole was introduced in 2011. But Sabra’s mainstay remains its containers of red-lidded hummus—in 12 different flavors—that anchor the refrigerated dip section in just about every major grocery store.

Hummus is an Arabic word meaning chickpeas, and the centuries-old dip invariably includes them, as well as tahini, and (usually) garlic. “When you have those three ingredients, you have our baseline,” Diyaolu explains. “What I’m saying is, how do we show the imagination beyond our baseline that shows where hummus could go in terms of flavors?”

Inspiration, Diyaolu says, comes from all sides. There are the consumer groups that Sabra’s marketing team probes for ideas and feedback. There are summits with suppliers to gain insight into similar categories, like the ice cream space, where flavor innovation is common. Diyaolu’s team also explores restaurants and marketplaces during “Trend Trips” to other cities. And then there’s good old-fashioned everyday inspiration, like Diyaolu’s four-year-old daughter eating her hummus with the condiment that all four-year-olds adore—ketchup. 

“The pairing of ketchup with a hummus base apparently goes well,” Diyaolu says with a bemused chuckle. “Then we tried buffalo sauce—it goes well! Then we tried barbecue, and it goes well!” And just like that, Sabra’s new line of Bold Familiar Favorites, which pairs hummus with Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Sauce and Stubb’s Barbecue Sauce, was born, adding more options to Sabra’s 12-flavor lineup. 

Photo courtesy of Sabra.

“That [product line] helps bring in lots of new folks that wouldn’t traditionally try a typical recipe of a hummus profile,” explains Diyaolu. “That’s where hummus could go, and that’s where we’re trying to increase accessibility of what people have known hummus to be, to what hummus can be, moving forward.”

Diyaolu says the process of taking an idea from a glimmer in a four-year-old’s eye to a SKU on store shelves can take anywhere from six to 18 months, depending on the complexity of the product. It starts with the “bringing products to life” phase, where ideating happens across every element of the item—from flavor to appearance. Next, the potential product is presented to consumer groups for testing. Once it’s gone through that gamut, it’s on to the kitchen for small-batch production, followed by the pilot plant, and eventually scaled all the way up to the manufacturing plant.

Innovation is just one part of Diyaolu’s impressive title. Sustainability is equally important to Sabra, and Diyaolu says that takes two forms—environmental sustainability and community engagement. While Sabra’s packaging is already completely recyclable, Diyaolu says they’re now pursuing ways to get more recycled content back into their packaging, closing the loop. They’re also looking for new ways to convert their energy usage into renewable energy, upholding one of the company’s three missions—nourishing the planet is one. Nourishing people and communities are the other two.

As for nourishing the community, the company has been active in finding ways to reduce hunger, partnering with FeedMore and other local organizations like Hopewell Elementary School with the dual goals of solving food insecurity and improving food education, especially around the types of ingredients that Sabra works with.

In his second full year at Sabra, Diyaolu is keeping his eyes on the big dream—taking Sabra beyond hummus and guacamole to new frontiers. He’s on an ambitious mission to add several new platforms between now and 2026, which will likely include hummus-adjacent dips like tzatziki for which he and his team will look for ways to provide versatility and uniqueness. New global-fusion flavor profiles are also on the docket. 

“I want to take this trusted brand that everyone knows and loves in the hummus space and translate that into the refrigerated spaces,” Diyaolu says. “So, establishing the journey of where we go from here, beyond hummus and guacamole …. How do we take that and grow?” 

FRED + ELLIOTT

At Sabra’s headquarters in Chesterfield, man and machine power come together to produce dizzying amounts of delicious dip. Here, miniature cups of hummus are getting ready to be paired with pre-portioned pretzels for Sabra’s Smart Snackers line.

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