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Astoria’s Sabra ready to launch new hummus products

If the folks at Astoria-based Sabra Go Mediterranean have anything to do with it, America’s future food consumption habits will be heavily reliant on chickpeas.

Sabra, purveyors of Mediterranean-inspired dips and spreads, have conjured up a recipe for national success with their line of specialty items including Mediterranean salsas, Turkish salad, babaganoush, and, of course, hummus, that are sold at major chain retailers such as Kroger, Safeway, and Sam’s Club, as well as smaller independent retailers and kosher markets.

The company, which was originally founded in 1994 by a rabbi who noticed a dearth of kosher hummus options, has exploded onto the national scene over the past several years, as Sabra began to leverage its relationships with national vendors, said Mina Penna, brand manager for Sabra Go Mediterranean.

Penna attributes the brand’s success to a number of factors, namely being attuned to consumers’ tastes and desire for healthier eating options. The gourmet flourishes of the product line, such as the refined packaging and fresh garnishes that accompany the dips and spreads, set Sabra apart from its supermarket competitors, she said.

“It’s an absolutely great tasting product,” Penna said. “It’s healthy and feels very fresh being in the deli section. It feels very authentic, with the taste and the packaging. The brand is about being full of life, and it really resonates with our consumers.”

Sales for the last 52 weeks totaled $96 million, based on a database that captures in-store scans, said Penna. These statistics represent roughly 19 percent growth in category, with projected sales on par with the company’s current numbers, she said.

Sabra’s bestselling items are the classic, roasted red pepper and roasted pine nut varieties of hummus, said Penna.

The company enlisted the help of chef Colombe Jacobsen, who attended the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan and appeared on season three of the Food Network’s “The Next Food Network Star” more than a year ago to consult on recipe development and to publicize the versatility of hummus.

Jacobsen has been developing recipes, such as pizza and hamburgers slathered with the spread, which substitute hummus for more traditional (and less healthy) staples, such as cheese.

“It’s a nice way for people to put their own unique twist on things, without making something from scratch,” she said.

Drawing upon her background in Mediterranean cuisine and her travels through the region have provided Jacobsen with a wealth of information in her work.

“The inspiration comes from tasting the authentic dishes of the Mediterranean and getting a sense of the culture,” she said. “It’s also about the lifestyle—knowing where the ingredients come from, eating fresh fish, getting fresh vegetables from the garden.”

Capitalizing on the public’s demand for Mediterranean-inspired morsels, Sabra will expand its product line with the launch of several new products, including spinach and artichoke hummus and single-serve portions of hummus, this July, Penna said.

The company, located at 24-20 49th Street in Astoria, will add a new 110,000-square-foot plant outside of Richmond, Va. to its Queens and Farmingdale, L.I. operational base, with construction slated for completion in early 2010, said Penna. The new plant will add a projected 260 jobs to its current roster of 300 employees, according to Sabra spokeswoman Stephanie Rogers.

Not content to merely rely on sales from its current culinary offerings, Penna said the company is always looking to add new products to the mix.

“The future of Sabra is in innovation,” she said.

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