Snack dip co plans to build Va R&D facility

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Snack dip company Sabra Dipping Co. is breaking ground on a new research and development facility in Chesterfield County.

The New York-based maker of refrigerated dips and spreads scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for the new 20,000-square-foot Center of Excellence.

The company says the building with a culinary center, pilot plant and research facilities will help establish best practices from food science to product packaging. It also will lead agricultural initiatives with local universities, including research on chickpeas, fruits and vegetables, to increase the use of local resources.

In June, the maker of America's top-selling hummus brand announced a $28 million investment to build the R&D facility and expand its manufacturing plant that opened in May 2010 to increase production capacity by 50 percent. About 90 jobs are expected to be created over the next few years as the company plans to serve the growing demand for healthy dips and spreads.

During the past decade, hummus — a combination of pureed chickpeas and spices — has moved beyond the ethnic food niche and solidly into the American mainstream, filling supermarket refrigerator cases and showing up on restaurant menus nationwide.

Sabra says it represents more than 55 percent of the market that is valued at about $600 million. Its products include hummus with vegetables and spices like spinach, artichoke, garlic and red pepper, as well as other vegetable dips and salads.

Despite sales increasing about 20 percent each of the last three years, Sabra's U.S. household penetration is only about 13 percent, leaving a lot of room for growth, said John McGuckin, the company's executive vice president of sales.

"We feel like there's a huge runway yet to go in terms of building out the Sabra brand," McGuckin said. "It's been a phenomenal run for us."

Strauss Group purchased a majority of Sabra in 2005. It formed the U.S. and Canadian joint venture with PepsiCo Inc. in March 2008 after Ofra Strauss, who chairs the Strauss' board, brought a picnic basket into the office of PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi to discuss the partnership.

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