Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of Ithaca Week, a weekly magazine produced by the students of the Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College.
The 21st Century Library Campaign – Tompkins County Public Library
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Ithaca Hummus is expanding its brand out of the local area adding 43 retailers to sell the product in the last three months, according to founder and CEO Chris Kirby.
The company sells its hummus in 14 stores in the Ithaca-area with 42 other locations selling in New York State, including 33 in the New York City area, and a few in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Currently in his final semester as an undergraduate student in the Hotel Administration School at Cornell University, Kirby founded the company upon arrival in 2013. He said it was his goal to incorporate his interests into one project.
“I came from cooking in restaurants that used fresh ingredients,” Kirby said. “I wanted to start a business that was at the intersection of my background as a chef and my degree in business.”
GreenStar Natural Food Markets is one of the local stores that sells Ithaca Hummus’ three flavors.
“Our community is such an international community,” Joe Romano, Marketing Director of the GreenStar, said. “We have such a wealth of cultures and tastes in our community and there are actually a lot of products that are not what you would typically expect in the northeast.”
In February 2014, Kirby was still operating the company alone, packaging 200 tubs of hummus a week and distributing them locally.
One year later, three employees produce and package between 1,500 and 2,200 tubs by hand in three days to provide customers with the freshest possible product for weekly shipments. The hummus has no preservatives and is unpasteurized, which gives the product a shelf life of only 21 days
This, Kirby said, is what has led to Ithaca Hummus’ more expensive price tag in store when compared to hummus produced by other companies.
“Our hummus is a bit more expensive because of our process,” Kirby said. “Our competitors have eliminated risk of spoilage by pasteurizing their products and adding preservatives… We are committed to serving a fresh product, and we’re not willing to compromise the quality standards we’ve set.”
Studies have shown that the number of people in the country who consume hummus is on the rise as well. In an article published by the Wall Street Journal in 2013, it was estimated that Sabra, one of the most established of the national hummus companies, sold about $315 million worth of their hummus in 2012. In recent years, the market for hummus in the United States has risen to about a billion dollars, after growing about 18% a year over the past five years.
The company currently ships 130 to 190 cases a week, of hummus, across three states, according to Jesse Wysong, Freight and Operations Support for the products distributor Regional Access. Based in Ithaca, the distributor has worked with Ithaca Hummus since January.
The addition of employees has allowed Kirby to start traveling to lead more demos about his product. Ithaca Hummus will be sampling their product at Mill Market in Pennsylvania, the Cornell Farmers Market, Ithaca Farmers Market, Central New York Regional Market, and other farmers markets in New York City.
Kirby said he not only has goals to continue expanding the company, but also to change the way that prepared foods are made and sold in the country.
“Many products you see in grocery stores have spent months in the supply chain or on the shelf,” Kirby said. “And It just doesn’t have to be that way. There are companies out there proving that vision and our goal is to join them in changing the industry for the better.”