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Elise Casto

Brand Manger Tribe Mediterranean - Taunton


Elise Casto


Elise Casto is the Brand Manager for Tribe Mediterranean the number 2 hummus producers in the United States. Based in Taunton Massachusetts, Tribe have introduced many new product lines and flavours of hummus to the US market. Tribe are owned by the Osem Group, an Israeli company.


Elise has an MBA from Duke University - The Fuqua School of Business and a BA in Political Science from Tufts University. Her previous employment includes, Senior Associate Brand Manager at Welchs, Brand Manager/Business Development at Staples and Associate Brand Manager at Terlato Wines.



the Interview

October 2011


So maybe you can start by telling me how many flavours that Tribe produces? Maybe you can show us a couple of them? And which is the most popular in the American market?


Tribe makes about 17 flavours of hummus. And hummus is a very flavour-driven category. So flavour is really important to the consumer. And we have two different types of hummus. We have our blended line, which...where the flavours are blended in, and the ingredients are blended into a nice, smooth hummus. And then we have our topped line, where the flavour is actually placed on top of the hummus.


So the blended line was our original line. Tribe was founded in 1994. This was our original line. Some of our most popular flavours in this line are 40 Spices, which is a blend of Mediterranean spices...really delicious and unique. We have our Roasted Garlic, which is a very popular hummus flavour.


We have Spicy Chipotle, which is a really young trend flavour. Jalapeño, Sweet Roasted Red Peppers, another one of our top sellers, just a kind of very appealing flavour. And then of course, our classic hummus, which is the number one seller. People always want just a classic based hummus, 'cause it pairs well with everything.


On the topped side, this is newer line for us. And actually, some of the flavours are brand new. We just launched our Cilantro Chimichurri. Cilantro is a really hot flavour right now. So that's why we went with that. We have our Olive Tapenade. A lot of consumers who eat hummus, also really like olives. So this is a really nice kind of tasting medley.


We also have our savoury mushroom, which is brand new, and our Mediterranean style, which is kind of a very kind of classical Mediterranean style, with paprika and olive oil on top, as well as a few other flavours. So this line is kind of newer for us, like I said, and just based on consumers wanting the topping.


We have all of our toppings are 'all natural', just like all of our hummus is 'all natural'. And the toppings are all handcrafted. So you'll see just a real nice kind of culinary look to our toppings.


I'm curious about why there are so many different flavours, and what does this say about the American market, do you think?


I think, you know...we've done research with consumers. And the first thing it tells us, that flavour is really important to them. So while your classic hummus has its place, people like to try different flavours. Hummus is almost like a carrier of flavours for people. So that's really important to the market.


And I think that's why you see so many flavours in the market. So you always have kind of your top sellers, your garlic, your red pepper, your, your classic. But people are always looking for more excitement and more flavours. And as hummus continues to grow, just being out there with some kind of more culinary flavours, is important, to get those consumers have a little bit more of a, you know, gourmet aspect to them.


We usually think of America as the home of the hot dog and the hamburger. Why do you think hummus is becoming so popular?


Well it's a great question. Hummus used to be kind of a niche item. It was seen as a little bit kind of earthy, crunchy, very much kind of a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern product. That's really changed. What we've seen from our consumers is that it's not really considered a Middle Eastern product or a Mediterranean product so much anymore.


Even though some brands position themselves that way, it's really become much more of a mainstream product. And the reason for that is, the popularity of hummus has kind of dovetailed with the whole health and wellness trend in America. So it's really the perfect food for Americans right now. It's convenient. It's super-easy. You can eat it very quickly, and it's healthy. It's also delicious.


So people are getting healthy indulgence when they eat hummus. Consumers tell us all the time, you know, they can eat almost a whole tub, and they don't feel guilty. So it's kind of like, the perfect food. It has a lot of nutritional benefits to it. And it 'is' delicious. It's, it's, it's not a serious healthy food. It's a, it's a really indulgent, yummy food.


So like I said, it kind of dovetails with those trends going on right now, where people want healthier products. But they are not willing to sacrifice taste. And that's really why hummus has grown so much.


Is this in response to a kind of the health and weight issues in America, do you think?


I think the general health and wellness trend is definitely in response to weight issues, obesity issues. And people in general just want to...they want to do a better job with their health. But c-, you know, a lot of consumers eat hummus, and they're definitely not just people who are super, super healthy. It...but a lot of Americans are trying to do a better job. And hummus let's them do that in a really easy way.


So, you know, people...we find that most of our consumers are not the, the really serious, healthy, the old...they're for people who want to do better. And, you know, for Americans, it's challenging. They're busy. There's convenience as a factor. And that's again, kind of where hummus comes into play. They can feel like they're doing something really good for themselves by eating hummus, instead of a less healthy snack.


Is there an issue in selling the word 'hummus' and explaining what it is? When we were in New York, the guy who owns the Hummus Place said to us, 'We had to teach New Yorkers about what hummus is and how to eat it. Is that something that you've had to do as well, to try and educate Americans about what actually hummus is? This strange word?


I don't think that we've felt that we've had to educate consumers so much on what it is, at this point, 'cause the market, i-is still growing. There's about 20 percent of consumers eat hummus. But in the markets where, where, where hummus is really strong, it's a lot, a lot bigger than that. So that's not actually something that we've encountered [background noise] so much.


It's actually really interesting that you say that. Generally, our consumers understand what hummus is. They understand it's, kind of, the basic health benefits, and they understand pretty much, it's a dipping food. A lot of research we've done in the past couple of years, have showed [sic] that almost the majority of consumers use it for dipping, and really understand that dipping, and that you don't eat with a fork. So it's actually...hearing that, it's a little bit interesting to me...especially in New York, which is the biggest hummus market that there is, in the country. So...


Is that where you sell your product?


Yeah. We sell in New York. We sell in Boston. All up and down the East Coast. We're also in the Midwest very strong, and also on the West Coast. And that's [sic] kind of lines up with where hummus is consumed. It, it's certainly...it's at this point, pretty much nationally distributed. But you'll see al...just kind of in those metro areas, you see a lot bigger consumer numbers, which lines up with kind of any new trend or, or new product.


Is that because those areas are more middle class?


No. It's more...it's more...these are more urban areas, and kind of metro suburbs, so that...Boston, and outside of Boston, New York. And that's really where we're seeing the hummus consumption. It's more those kind of major metropolitan areas.


Do you have a particularly Jewish clientele, or is it more diverse?


Our, our consumers are definitely diverse. Certainly the Jewish consumer does eat a lot of hummus, and we have definitely targeted that consumer with some of our advertising. It's, it's definitely kind of a mainstay. But our consumers are very broad. We have, we have a large presence on Facebook, and we have all types of consumers.


Some o-,...we have a lot of consumers with kids. We have consumers without kids. We have vegetarians, not vegetarians, and I think that's what's so interesting about hummus...is that it's a mass appeal product.


Can you talk about how big the American market is, and where Tribe is positioned?


Sure. So the, the market is about $400 million dollars, if you look across all the channels, which includes your grocery, and your Walmart, and your Club. And it's been growing...double digits, the last couple of years, which has been fantastic. Tribe, right now, is the number two national player, and we're also the only 'all natural' national player.


What do you mean by 'all natural'? What's that about?


So, most consumers feel that all hummus is 'all natural', 'cause it's such a healthy product. They just assume it's a natural product. But it's, it...a lot of the large hummus manufacturers actually put preservatives in their products, of course, so that it makes it, you know, last longer, a longer shelf life.


We actually don't put any preservatives in our products. We don't have any other artificial colourings, or anything else artificial. So every ingredient in our hummus, even the toppings, are 'all natural'. And that is definitely our different point versus the competition.


So no preservatives at all?


Correct.


What sort of shelf life do you get out of...


I-It's about 50 days, delivered...to the customer.


Yeah. So it's...so there's a lot of work that...and you saw everything with the, there's a lot of work to go...that goes into making a great tasting hummus, that can have that type of shelf life, that's still 'all natural'.


And we, you know, we really believe in 'all natural', and it's something very...it 'is' something very important to the consumer.


And is that how you also try to differentiate?


Yes...That's right, yeah...it is.


Any secret recipes?


Secret recipes? N-No, I wouldn't say secret recipes. But I would say that our toppings are very unique, as compared to other things that you see on the market. And there's a lot of care that goes into all of our flavours. It's just incredible, the amount of, of work that goes into...you know, it's a very tightknit team here. A lot of passion behind the products.


And I mean, if you...some of our toppings, the way we talk about them is, we want them to be good enough to eat on their own. And they really are. And if you compare us to some other products, on a side by side, I think you can see that. So no big secrets really. But we, you know, we like to say that we have unique and different flavours, which has really worked for us.


What are the aspirations of Tribe as a brand?


Well we definitely want to own 'all natural' in the marketplace. But not only that. We know we need to be the most delicious hummus there too. So consumers, yes, they want 'all natural'. But they want delicious. And number one, we have to have a delicious hummus, which we do.


Our...we know that our product tests very well against the competition. And wor-, we really...we work constantly to kind of improve our product, listen to consumers about what they want...play that back in our product improvements. We've just repackaged everything. So we have a, a whole new look.


And we, we really want to stand for 'all natural', authentic, delicious hummus. The people really connect with it, and it's their go-to hummus.


And aspirations to be number one in the market too?


Yeah. Of course. That would be great. It's just a matter of time.


Can you explain the connection between Tribe and your Israeli branch, and where the technology and the know-how comes from? Has it come from Israel?


So we're owned by Osem Group. We were acquired a few years ago. The company did exist before that, and created hummus, and actually, was very successful. But we've been acquired by Osem, so that's an Israeli company, and they have definitely brought a lot of, kind of R&D scientific know-how. I mean, obviously, Israel is probably the, the top place for hummus cons-,...is consumed in the world. There's a lot of argument out there... you've probably heard this...of where the origins of hummus come from, and of -- a lot of people, like, want to claim that. But of course, Israel's one of those places.


And, you know, everybody eats hummus in Israel. So you...to say, you know, we have a hummus expert, who is here from Israel...so all that kind of know-how and understanding of the product has definitely benefited us. And it's definitely part of our story, in terms of creating a hummus.


But the important point is that it's not just so much...it's, it's hummus that Americans will want. But i-it's authentic hummus. All that know-how comes from Israel. Yet this is, you know, hummus for the American market. And in very ma-, very many ways, it 'is' an authentic product. It's smooth and it's creamy, and like I said, there's been a lot of work over the past few years to make that product a real authentic product.


But we've definitely benefited from having our, our chief R&D person from Shai Denor over from Israel. And he is really kind of the heart and soul behind developing a lot of this great hummus.


A lot of this story is about trying to find the origins of hummus. Do you have an attitude as a company, as to whether hummus is Israeli, or it's Palestinian, or Lebanese?


No, we don't. I mean it...really, you can research that to death. And, a-and you really can't find an answer. And the truth probably lies in that it originated in a lot of different countries a long time ago. And you know what's so funny...is to the consumer today, it's just...in America? It's not even relevant any more.


It's, it's consumers, like...I think I said this in the beginning...tell us, oh, we, we don't consider that an ethnic food. I-It's like... it's, it's a staple. And it's just really not seen any more as so much of an, you know, an ethnic food, the way salsa's really not seen any more like a [sic] ethnic...it's part o-,...it's really becoming part of the diet.


So, well that's an interesting thing to talk about. It's, it's, we find it not really that relevant to our consumers. It's...much more relevant, is the flavour, and the taste, and how it fits in to their lifestyle, a-and the health benefits of the product.


So in that sense, it's sort of become really a global food, hasn't it?


Yeah, it seems to be, definitely, 'cause I know it's, it's consumed in Europe, and of course, you know, many areas, so...


I was reading an article from the BBC website, and the article is called 'How Hummus Conquered Britain'. And so it's really taking off there as well.


Yeah. And it really is the perfect food. I mean, more and more, there's so much concern over obesity and weight management, and eating the tr-, correct types of protein, and getting enough protein, and not eating the wrong kind of carbs. And if you look at a product like hummus, it's a great source of protein.


It's based in beans, which are incredibly healthy, and then also has fibre. So really, i-it's, it's...to me it's a trend that's gonna last for a long time, as consumers continue, kind of, to struggle with wellness and, and staying well.


What's your attitude towards the boycott? Has it impacted on your business? Has it had any effect on consumer buying or not buying?


So, just try and have an attitude towards the call to boycott Tribe made hummus, and has the boycott actually had any impact?


To be honest, we've seen very little impact to our business from the boycott at all, on the consumer side, on the business side. So that's pr-probably the easiest way to answer that question. It's not had a large impact on us.


But does it have an impact on your reputation as well?


In a large scale way, not at all, no. Does not seem to.


What about the claims that are made in the boycott? The reason for the boycott, which is that Tribe supports the Israeli Defence Force?


Basically, when we do have questions, we have a letter that goes out, that says that...states that that is not the case. And, and that's pretty much the end of it. And it's, it's...you know, I think that it's...again, it really has not impacted us that much. But we, of course, as a professional organisation, need to be ready with that answer, and we are.


No feedback from supermarkets, saying it's had an impact?


Not really. No. I mean, no. Not that I'm aware of.


What are the different types of hummus that Tribe produces?


Tribe's heritage started out in blended...now, since we've become...in the last couple of years, we've definitely revamped the products. But we still kind of have our core flavour. So, always our top sellers are Sweet, Sweet Roasted Red Pepper, our Classic, our Garlic, which we just tasted. And then our Forty Spices.


Our Forty Spices is really nice and unique. So I'll let you taste that too. And those are always kind of the core top sellers. But the other flavours are important too. We have a lot of consumers that are kind of loyal to the Olive, and the Jalapeño, and the Horseradish.


In fact, our Horseradish, we just featured in Oprah Magazine. So there's, there's room for all of those, kind of, other flavours. And that's what I mean about the category being flavour-driven.


Now on the, on the top side, again, these are pretty new, so it's hard to say. But I will say that the Spicy Red Pepper was one of the earliest ones, and it does very well. Zesty Spice and Garlic as well. Cilantro is just getting some distribution, and where we have it, it's doing extremely well. It's...actually, I have to have you try this one, 'cause this is pretty, pretty amazing. Hopefully you like Cilantro.


I mean, all these kind of blended flavours, I mean, these are really, you know, American flavours, but in hummus. And the toppings of Cilantro Chimichurri were...like, a Chimichurri flavour, is now very, very hot. You see it in...featured all the time in recipes. And Americans really like Cilantro.


So you're going to kind of see that mixture of, you know, hummus that Americans want, but with a really authentic kind of...this is the way hummus is meant to be. All-natural, smooth style. So hummus, the way it's meant to be, the way Americans like it.





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