Jul 11, 2023 - Food and Drink

The D.C. metro's hummus empire is expanding

DC's Little Sesame launches in Whole Foods nationwide

Little Sesame's Ronen Tenne and Nick Wiseman. Photo courtesy of Birch for Little Sesame

Hummus production is skyrocketing in the D.C. metro region, as local dip dynamos like Cava Group and Little Sesame expand their national reach.

Why it matters: The Mid-Atlantic region has become over the past decade one of the largest hummus-producing areas in the world — thanks in large part to Sabra, the PepsiCo co-owned company that in 2010 opened near Richmond the globe's largest hummus factory.

Driving the news: Little Sesame, which started as a tiny fast-casual joint in Dupont Circle seven years ago, launched its hummus line in about 450 Whole Foods nationwide this month.

  • That means their new hummus factory in District Heights, Md., went from churning out 2,500 lbs. of hummus a week to 25,000 lbs.

What they're saying: "It's a huge deal — going from not-a-brand to national in Whole Foods in two years is crazy," says co-founder and D.C. native Nick Wiseman, who operates a flagship restaurant near downtown but is focusing on retail moving forward.

  • Little Sesame is "building towards the future of hummus," according to Wiseman. They've got a chef-y approach (e.g. "jammy tomato" hummus from sustainable Montana chickpeas), and trendy collaborations like a pumpkin-chili crisp flavor with spice sensation Fly By Jing, and even a Sweetgreen salad special.

What's next: Another dip boom is Cava, which just raised $318 million in its long-awaited IPO, opens a second, $30 million facility in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley next year.

  • Combined with their original plant in Laurel, Md., the facilities are designed to support at least 750 restaurants and their CPG business (dips, spreads, and dressings) in more than 650 grocery stores nationwide.

Between the lines: Like Little Sesame, Cava is another chips-to-riches story — the original founders, all native Washingtonians, got started by hand-packing dips at their original Rockville restaurant and sealing them with a hair dryer.

Zoom out: Hummus’ popularity is spreading all over the U.S. The American market, estimated at $2.95 billion in 2021, is expected to grow to more than $6 billion by 2028, according to Fortune Business Insights.

Zoom in: Sabra set the table for the country's hummus obsession and mass regional production. The company, founded in NYC in 1986, strategically relocated to Virginia for its infrastructure and access to its biggest markets in the North and Southeast — and then kicked off a national tour to introduce the rest of the nation to chickpea dip.

  • Today, the Virginia plant employs roughly 500 workers and can produce more than 12 million pounds of hummus per month (D.C. is their 11th-largest market).

The bottom line: Despite soaring numbers, Sabra CEO Joey Bergstein says there's "plenty of room for growth" for hummus beyond a party snack. "The real opportunity rests in the fact that most people only buy hummus several times a year. We're focused on the other 362 days."

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