Ithaca Hummus is a small company in Ithaca, NY. We cook our garbanzo beans fresh, and use cold-pressed lemon juice, raw garlic, and 100% olive oil to create a super fresh and much more flavorful product. Our hummus is unique because it is made from pure ingredients without preservatives.
People see hummus at the grocery store and assume it must be fresh if it’s in the cold case. But that’s not necessarily true. Something I understood with my background as a chef was that there’s a difference when I compare the hummus I find at the grocery store with the fresh hummus that I have at a restaurant. Ithaca Hummus aims to give the option of a fresh hummus to grocery store shoppers. Our main value add is fresh food.
“Our hummus is unique because it is made from pure ingredients without preservatives.”
Our product, and the impact that we have on our category, is very similar to the popularity of cold-pressed juice and juice cleanses over the past two years. The juice category used to be dominated by Mott’s and Welch’s, but they’re just concentrated flavored sugar water. Then some companies came out with a new generation of juice that had a focused value proposition rooted in the freshness of their product. We’re doing the exact same thing in the hummus category.
We are targeting the people who are familiar with hummus, and who are buying other hummus products out there. We’re framing Ithaca Hummus as the next generation, fresher version of what they’re already buying. When I started the company, we were just selling to stores in the immediate region and fraternity houses and sororities. But thanks a lot in part to Wegmans, we now distribute as far south as Alexandria, VA. We’re in Boston, Vermont, and throughout the Northeast at this point. This year, we’re focused on saturating more stores along the eastern seaboard through Whole Foods.
One thing I’ve learned from customers is that they see a notable difference in the texture of our hummus, which is not something that I had ever marketed. We have a fluffier, lighter, homestyle texture because most other companies don’t cook beans fresh the way we do.
I started the company while I was a student at Cornell, so I called it Ithaca Hummus. We naturally call Ithaca home, and always will. Tompkins County, the Southern Tier, and upstate New York as a whole have this great ecosystem for small businesses, especially food businesses. You have companies like Wegmans and LiDestri Food & Beverage in Rochester who are here to support small businesses. On top of that, you’ve got the Southern Tier Startup Alliance, Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, and Cornell University. All of those organizations understand that entrepreneurship is really what’s going to help accelerate the economic advancement of the community, and they do a great job of supporting that. But really, just the authenticity of the brand is important to me. I would never want to sell Ithaca Hummus that’s made in Detroit, Michigan. It just doesn’t feel right to me.
“Entrepreneurship is really what’s going to help accelerate the economic advancement of the community, and the Southern Tier Startup Alliance, Rev, and Cornell University do a great job of supporting that.”
A huge factor in keeping the company here was finding this facility. I couldn’t have found a better turnkey facility to house a small business like mine; I didn’t have to go out and invest in the building or the land because I lease the space here. Challenge received a lot of funding for the building, and my company would not have been able to grow as fast as it has without this project. Some of the equipment we have, and the space that we have–it was a game changer for us.
Our growth is mostly rooted in the people here. I’ve used a lot of the mentorship available through Rev, like Entrepreneurs-In-Residence Brad Treat and Tony Frontera. They have given us tangible pieces of advice that we’ve taken and used; it’s nice to have sounding boards out there and the feeling of support that’s there if you want it. On top of that, there are people, like the staff at Rev, who are excited to talk about what’s going on here. That’s great for business.
We’re a virtual member at Rev, but there’s a lot of value in that. Just being known there is valuable. It’s a lot more than just a place to go and meet people in the center of Ithaca; there are advocates there who are excited and interested about what you’re doing, and they’re out in the community plugging away at what’s going on with each of the of the Rev member companies. I spend most of my time with my head down, focused on the business, when I probably should be out in the community more often talking about my company. But it’s fantastic to be part of an organization like Rev, where I’ve got cheerleaders out there talking about what I’m doing.
We employ ten people at this point, three of which are from Groton. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for growth in Groton. There are a lot of people here who need jobs, and it’s awesome that we’ve had the opportunity to come in and make that kind of a difference here.
“It’s fantastic to be part of an organization like Rev, where I’ve got cheerleaders out there talking about what I’m doing.”
We have a lot of irons in the fire. This year, our big push is Whole Foods. We’re completely revamping our packaging, which is really exciting, and we’re re-launching our grab-and-go that’s packed with fresh carrots. Our category review for Whole Foods is in May, and we’re hoping to launch in 6 of their regions, with the grab-and-go and our five other SKUs.
People come to work everyday, happy, and seem to enjoy the job. You can’t have a successful business without people who enjoy working for the business. So that’s a big one. Also, the support that we’ve gotten from Tompkins County Area Development has been great. They’ve provided a lot of funding for us, and every time I’ve gone in front of them to ask for a loan, they’ve said yes. It’s a reassuring experience every time we do it. There are a lot of smart people in the room who are betting on us to succeed.
Honestly, it’s creating something. When I first started the company, I would go into every store where we were selling, which was about twenty at the time, almost every day, just to see if they had sold one container. That’s the kind of thing that really fuels me, keeps me going. Seeing the product out there, seeing that people are buying it, and that it’s worth someone’s shelf space to sell, that’s really gratifying.
Throughout your day, you’re going to have fires that you have to put out, but it’s really important to keep the big picture in mind. Try to have a long-term view on what you’re doing instead of always short-term. That concept has really helped shape the way that I approach a day, a week, and a month.
Find one or two things that you’re uniquely good at, and focus on what makes those things special and different. That’s where you want to innovate, that’s where you want to make a difference, that’s where you want to be creative. Don’t worry too much about everything else. You want to outsource all the things that are just functions of being in business, and concentrate on what makes you different. You’ve got to leave yourself open for opportunities. I think that’s a big part of entrepreneurship: just staying flexible, nimble, and able to pivot and learn.