Chris Kirby left a successful career as a professional chef in 2013 and began selling his hummus tubs out of the back of his car at local markets. Those humble beginnings led to the creation of a cold-crafted hummus brand found in over 8,200 stores like Whole Foods, Publix, Target, Sprouts and more.

Ithaca Hummus is made using ingredients like fresh garbanzo beans and real lemons and uses High Pressure Processing (HPP) to keep their dips fresh and full of nutrients. Its plant-based, vegan, NON-GMO Project Verified and gluten free.

The brand, known for innovative flavors like Buffalo Ranch, Everything Bagel and a partnership with Grillo’s Pickles that blended real pickles with hummus for a real “deli flavor.” Late last year they launched a first-of-its-kind kid-friendly pouch, Ithaca Squeeze. 

What inspired you to leave your career as a chef and create Ithaca? 

I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. Growing up, I thought what tasted good wasn’t healthy and the healthy stuff didn’t taste good. But as I learned more about food in culinary school and as a chef, I realized this wasn’t true at all. The misconception I grew up with was not only false, but it was also a problem for the health of our future generations. So, I started to dream bigger and created a vision to help solve that problem. 

At that time the hummus category was already big, and for good reason: it’s the original plant-based dip and it’s been central to the diets of some of the healthiest civilizations for centuries. But despite its popularity and health benefits, the brands in the category weren’t meeting my personal expectations around flavor and freshness. I wanted to change that and felt it would have a major impact on the category if I was successful. 

I started small by making the freshest hummus possible and selling it at the Ithaca Farmers Market. People were instantly hooked. It didn’t matter if they never tried hummus, thought they didn’t like hummus or were already loyal to another brand; everyone who tried Ithaca Hummus loved it. I knew if I could commercialize the recipe and scale up our process without changing the taste or freshness of the product, I had something that would disrupt and grow the entire category. Over the last 10 years, we’ve grown from the farmers market stand to become the No. 1 premium brand in the category nationwide, but it still feels like we are just getting started. 

What sets Ithaca Hummus apart from others in the category? 

Taste. It’s what’s set us apart from the very beginning. It started out very simple: cook chickpeas, cool chickpeas, add fresh ingredients and blend! Our process is still very simple, but at today’s scale, it’s not easy and it’s not cheap. The key to our process is cooling the chickpeas down completely before blending in the fresh ingredients. It’s an extra step, it takes longer, and it requires specialized equipment, but it would be impossible to achieve our flavor profiles any other way. And, for us, taste is everything. 

The company has had some interesting flavor combos over the years – how are they created and what is Ithaca’s development process like?

Our goal is to give consumers unique, culinary-focused flavors that deliver on taste and freshness. At first, we focused on offering the classics like lemon garlic, but quickly began pushing the boundaries with flavors like lemon beet. Fast forward to today, we continue to surprise and delight consumers with out-of-the-box flavors that are unique to us and stay true to our culinary roots. We recently partnered with another like-minded brand, Grillo’s Pickles, to create a pickle hummus that consumers responded really well to. We’ve also had some fun on our own with the creation of the Buffalo Ranch flavor which was an ode to our home region. 

How, and where, is Ithaca Hummus produced? How is it distributed? 

All of our hummus is produced in upstate New York and distributed to retail through cold freight. We use a special cold process to keep the flavors fresh. Here’s how it works:

  1. Ingredients like fresh lemons and garlic are cold-pressed for maximum fresh flavor.
  2. Chickpeas are cooked and cooled completely, then whipped with other ingredients in a chilled blending process.
  3. After packaging, the sealed containers are subjected to high pressure in a cold process that extends the shelf life of the final product. This process is called HPP (high-pressure processing).

Ithaca Hummus recently expanded into a new category, with its new line of Salsas and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. What’s next for the company?

Even though we’ve been in the biz for 10 years now, we feel like we have so much room to grow. Looking ahead, we’ll continue driving awareness and trial of our core hummus line, and plan to expand hummus distribution to even more retailers across the U.S. We are also working on a few new hummus flavors so you can keep an eye out for those in the near future.

 Our new line of salsa has had an incredible first few months in the market. We’re seeing all the right signs from consumers and retailers alike. We’ve sensed the consumer demand for a less processed option and given our commitment to elevated flavor and freshness, we feel confident in our ability to grow exponentially within the category.