Food company switches to hummus production
SALEM — An Oregon food company is investing $1 million in facility upgrades to process Northwest chickpeas for the growing hummus market.
The shelf-stable product won’t require refrigeration and builds on Truitt Family Foods’ expertise in thermally processing beans, company founder Peter Truitt said.
“We’re bean people,” he said. “We’ve been doing beans for many, many years.”
The chickpeas used for the traditional Mediterranean dip are grown in Washington, where the Salem, Ore., company purchases dry beans.
Truitt expects to begin production of the 2-ounce hummus containers in September, marking the latest in a series of changes for the food processor.
In 2012, the facility discontinued seasonal canning of Northwest pears, cherries, plums and green beans as the products weren’t competitive in the current market, Truitt said.
Last year, the company split into two operations.
Truitt Bros., run by Peter’s brother David, performs contract processing and product development at a West Salem plant across the Willamette River.
Truitt Family Foods now focuses on branded products like the hummus dip as well as canned beans.
Its revamped operation will boost employment at the facility by 14 positions.
“This is a great addition to a strong market we have around agriculture and food processing,” said Chad Freeman, president of Strategic Economic Development Corp., a non-profit in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Peter Truitt said the overall hummus market is growing tremendously and he hopes to capitalize on the “grab and go” aspect of his new product.
Sales of hummus and other refrigerated flavored spreads hit $637 million in 2013, up more than 20 percent from the prior year, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm.
Hummus products are commonly sold in larger containers that must be refrigerated, while Truitt’s dip comes in individual portions that consumers can throw in a lunch bag, he said.
“A product like this is for individual use,” Truitt said.
Processing the hummus to make a shelf-stable product involves many of the same principles as canning, which was the company’s traditional specialty, he said.
The upgraded plant’s capacity will be 18 million cups of hummus per year. Truitt said companies have already expressed enough demand for the product to account for half that capacity.
“It’s a market we can participate in very successfully,” he said.
The growing American appetite for hummus has greatly spurred chickpea production in the Northwest, said Todd Scholz, director of information and research for the U.S. Dry Pea & Lentil Council.
Acreage in Washington and Idaho has exploded over the past five years, from roughly 40,000 acres to 135,000 acres, he said.
“Hummus was the driving force,” Scholz said.
A solid majority of chickpeas produced in the U.S. were formerly exported, but half are now consumed domestically, he said.
“The change in production has gone into the domestic market,” said Scholz.
Farmers worried that the surge in chickpea production would cause prices to drop, but they’ve remained stable, he said.
At roughly 30 cents per pound, chickpea prices are at the same level as in the mid-2000s, though they have dropped from a high of 50 cents per pound around 2011-2012, he said.
The outlook for hummus remains strong, Scholz said.
While average U.S. per capita consumption has grown tremendously, it’s still well below that of Israel, for example, said Scholz.
“We still have room in the United States,” he said. “It’s still got plenty of potential.”