Ask the chief executive of Tribe Mediterranean Foods to describe his company’s hummus factory, and he’ll gush for a full five minutes that make a cold production floor sound like a warm wonderland of chickpeas.
As Tribe CEO Adam Carr recently described it to The Huffington Post, after the legumes used to make his company’s hummus are trucked in from the West Coast, they're not just soaked overnight in giant tubs, but are also tenderized -- a veritable “chickpea spa” with “chickpea pamperers.”
“We then move our tender chickpeas into the caring hands of the flavor matchmakers,” Carr continued, explaining those people don’t necessarily follow a strict recipe but vary the ratio of sesame seed paste, oil and spices needed to make hummus depending on the season.
Quality control testers at the end of the factory line, or “seasoned spicers” in Carr’s words, then test every batch of hummus, consuming up to three-quarters of a tub each workday.
“Obviously, they use a new spoon every time,” Carr said.
There is a strategy behind how Carr speaks of Tribe’s Taunton, Mass.-plant as if he's a modern-day Willy Wonka of hummus. Tribe, the second-largest hummus brand in the United States, just underwent a complete brand makeover. Besides snazzy new packaging, increased social media engagement and new flavors, Carr said, connecting with consumers about how exactly hummus is made is a key aspect of the company’s marketing push.
“Consumers are getting wary of mainstream machine-made food branded as healthy,” Carr said. “We still follow a process that takes a tremendous amount of human touch. There isn’t a strict formula that you can adhere to so that you can add X of this and Y of that and have it taste the same every time.”
Carr said his company realized over the past year just how much American foodies most likely to consume hummus dislike the idea of having their food appear mass-produced. But Tribe is hardly alone in coming to that conclusion. Last month, Starbucks rolled out a line of pastries intentionally designed to look imperfect and “homemade,” in a bid to boost sales. Meanwhile, in the craft beer market, MillerCoors is trying to cement its Blue Moon brand as truly artisanal, fighting "beer snobs" who dismiss it as another mass-produced brew.
Tribe’s marketing effort is more scattershot than that, and includes trying to position the brand as equal parts playful, healthy and classy. For example, as part of its branding, Tribe is introducing a giant chickpea as a company mascot.
At the same time, Carr said Tribe is hoping to tap into that undercurrent of dislike for standardized production in order to increase sales. His company commands some 8 percent of the U.S. hummus market, according to Bloomberg. Sabra Hummus, the industry’s undisputed leader, has over 60 percent of the market share. Last year, sales for "refrigerated flavored spreads" -- comprised mostly of hummus -- totaled $530 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Carr said he hopes Tribe's marketing increases the number of households who consistently buy hummus.
“This is a fast-growing category,” Carr said. “People love hummus.”