With a $1.6 million investment in a new, customed-designed production line, Ithaca Hummus plans to triple its output at the Lee Road plant that turns out its product.
The company has been based in Rochester since 2017, when it decamped from the namesake Finger Lakes city of its birth. The move coincided with a partnership, struck with Fairport-based private-labeler LiDestri Foods, which now holds a 20 percent stake in Ithaca Hummus.
The new production line, which will enable the company to increase its output, is needed to keep pace with skyrocketing demand for the chickpea-based spread, says Frank Cavallaro, Ithaca Hummus chief operating officer.
The spread traces its origin to the Middle East. Some trace hummus to ancient Egypt. Whatever its origin, hummus has been a staple in North Africa for millennia as well as in Mediterranean countries like Greece and Turkey. The name hummus is Arabic for chickpea, a legume also known the garbanzo bean.
With the rising popularity of the Mediterranean diet in recent years, hummus has become a staple in many American households, which, says Cavallaro, has been very good for Ithaca Hummus.
The company began by selling lemon and garlic spread at the Ithaca Farmers Market. By 2017, it had worked its way up to a small, regional supplier.
“When we moved to Rochester from Ithaca,” says Cavallaro, “we had three employees and less than $1 million in sales. Now, we distribute nationally, employ 14, and our sales are approaching $30 million. Until we got to this point, we weren’t in a position to make a $1.6 million investment.”
In addition to staffers who work at the company’s downtown Rochester headquarters in the Sibley Building, some 60 LiDestri employees working three shifts are dedicated to turning out Ithaca Hummus packages and squeeze bottles.
Cavallaro says the company sells directly to major supermarket chains including Rochester-based Wegmans Foods Markets Inc. and Florida-based Publix Super Markets Inc., and to smaller stores through distributors.
As sales ramped up, Cavallaro says, Ithaca Hummus outgrew the production method it first used in Rochester—cooking chickpeas in vats, mashing them, and mixing in fresh lemon and garlic and other ingredients. To keep up with rising demand, the company was bringing in truckloads of frozen chickpeas.
The new production line will let it switch to dried chickpeas, which it can order in train-car loads. The system will hydrate, cook, mash, stir in added ingredients and package the spread in a single operation. It will also treat the packaged hummus with a special process, subjecting it to pressure equal to that exerted at the ocean’s deepest depth. The pressure treatment, applied to packages submerged in water, enables Ithaca Hummus to avoid using preservatives.
“It’s all fresh,” says Cavallaro, “just like you’d make in your own kitchen.”