How Sabra Hummus Took Over The U.S.

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Even now, mere mention of Sabra causes veteran food marketers to stand in awe. For good reason. Eight years ago, the brand held less than 10% of the US hummus market, well behind Nestle’s Tribe and Kraft’s Athenos. By the start of 2015, the brand, which is co-owned by PepsiCo and Strauss Foods, had overcome the competition dwarfing them with a whopping 60% of the US hummus market, according to a recent article in Fast Company. Much of this thanks to the NYC advertising agency StrawberryFrog.

Everyone knows about Chobani and the rise of Greek yogurt in America. But how many know the incredible story of Sabra Hummus?

The trajectory of hummus in general and Sabra in particular would be astonishing in any industry, but especially in the food-marketing business, where short-lived brands are depressingly common. Sabra’s durability raises a question. How did the brand grow so quickly? How did it succeed where the competitors could not? All three competitors – Kraft, Nestle, and PepsiCo – have strong distribution. I’m hardly courting controversy by asserting that a vital difference was the marketing and brand management.

The brand strategy was a point of difference. Whereas traditional food brands rely on advertising, success here is explained more by the fact that Sabra led a Cultural Movement rather than a traditional advertising campaign. The movement moved passions, which moved people, which moved product. That was the difference.

As every brand manager would surely agree, good brand management is explained more by process than by strategy. In this case we adopted a Movement Marketing approach where the process identified cultural shifts in America and connected those shifts with the brand purpose and benefit.

Some brands are on a mission, and from the early days Sabra was one of them. Ronen Zohar, the former Sabra CEO, held the vision that Sabra had to stand for something meaningful in people’s lives. He wanted to connect with Americans where and how they already eat, instead of trying to bring Americans to the Mediterranean. This inspired the thinking around a movement that challenged the status quo and changed habits. He hired the Movement Making NYC advertising agency StrawberryFrog and set out to build the business over eight years, until 2015.

To the average American consumer, hummus was an alien concept. Plus, there were no hummus habits in the country. Unless your mother had been a hippie or had traveled to the Med, you had no idea how to eat this food. The Cultural Movement had to create the habit. But beyond that, it had to get people off mayo and spray cheese and into a beige pasty food unlike anything they had eaten before. Not an easy challenge.

Several brands of hummus had been trying for years but no one seemed able to break through. One marketing campaign from Athenos Hummus featured an authentic and lovely Greek grandmother but it only reinforced the idea that hummus was not easy to relate to.

Remembering Ronen’s vision to bring the hummus to Americans and not the other way around, the brand Sabra decided to break through and really put hummus on the US map in a big way: this was the launch advertising bringing Sabra to meet Americans on their own turf.

Sabra had been around since 1986, launched in Queens, New York, by a Rabbi named Yehuda Pearl. Israeli food conglomerate Strauss Group eventually bought half of the company, convinced of its international potential which is when NYC advertising agency StrawberryFrog entered the picture. Meanwhile, PepsiCo had purchased Stacy’s Pita Chips (another brand that chose to work with StrawberryFrog). In Sabra, PepsiCo saw a beautifully arranged marriage—“a great opportunity for that premium chip-and-dip combination,” says Frito-Lay VP of marketing Dave Skena (Fast Company). At PepsiCo, “premium” is the future: The category—which it defines broadly to include Smartfood popcorn, Simply Lay’s, and basically anything with better ingredients—is “growing at a significantly faster clip than other snacks.” PepsiCo bought the remaining half of Sabra, to run it jointly with Strauss. So began the great hummus adventure.

Instead of just doing ads, this brand chose Cultural Movement. Instead of the market of “foodies” which Tribe and Athenos built their business around, the latter using old Greek grandmothers to hawk their hummus to American gourmet connoisseurs, Sabra and StrawberryFrog targeted the 92% of Americans who opt for Chinese take away and spray cheese on a regular basis.  The result was a movement called the Food Intervention, ignited to start a conversation about eating better around America, and challenging family and friends to intervene to change food from the bad to Sabra hummus. The brand blossomed.

The ‘taste intervention’ flooded across digital and social, as well as in mass advertising – all of it asking Americans to join the intervention.

The brand continued to rise as new people joined in and consumers became passionate fans.

To avoid decay the Cultural Movement evolved (as all great movements do) into “Dip Life to the Fullest”. From our imaginations came series of campaigns to educate Americans about how to eat Sabra Hummus. “A Guide To Good Dipping” did the simple job of showing people, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, how to eat Sabra hummus.

Sabra became the “official dip” of the NFL, to take the brand even further into the heartland of America, and inspire hummus at Super Bowl parties, including a TV commercial featuring Jeffrey Tambor.

Smart marketing combined with a vision for a new kind of brand accelerated the trajectory of this wonderful challenger. And all of this, according to the article in Fast Company, grew Sabra hummus at an accelerated rate. Since the PepsiCo deal and marketing from our NYC advertising agency, Sabra’s revenue has grown exponentially and the brand continues to maintain over 60% market share.

Today, the market has matured. Consumers are a lot smarter and more comfortable with hummus. Brands such as Cedar’s and Eat Well are gaining greater penetration and share. Marketers are wiser. Last year, store branded hummus grew over 30 percent according to Nielsen. It’s an interesting time to be in hummus.

Why Brand Building is Important

Looking out into the world today, it’s easy to see why brands are more important now than at any time in the past 100 years. Brands are psychology and science brought together as a promise mark as opposed to a trademark, usually helped by a creative marketing agency. Products have life cycles. Brands outlive products. Brands convey a uniform quality, credibility and experience. Brands are valuable. Many companies put the value of their brand on their balance sheet.

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What is a brand worth? Amazon bought Whole Foods. PepsiCo bought Soda Stream. And Tata Motors of India bought Jaguar and Range Rover from Ford. What did these companies buy? Factories? Raw Materials? Employees? No, in the case of Tata, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley helped Ford sell the brands to them for $2.56 billion, and the brands were worth more than all other ingredients combined. Likewise, when Heinz bought Kraft what did they buy? The food? The factories? The recipes? The workers? No, they bought the brand.

The list goes on with many examples such as InBev acquiring Budweiser to add to their house of brands that includes Stella, Becks and Labatt. Or Geeley Motors of China acquiring cult Swedish Auto brand Volvo. Or Mahindra of India buying Ssangyong, Korea’s third largest car company.

Branding is fundamental. Branding is basic. Branding is essential. Building brands builds incredible value for companies and corporations.

If you are still not convinced, let me give you another example. The American dollar is a world brand. In essence it is simply a piece of paper. But branding has made it valuable. All the tools of marketing and brand building have been used to create its value. On the front you will find the owner of the brand: the Federal Reserve. There is a testimonial from the first President of the United States, George Washington. There is a simple users guide: “This note is legal tender for debts public and private.” And if you’re still not convinced, the owner has added the all-important emotional message: “In God We Trust”. The dollar is a world brand. It confers a uniform value globally. But as I said it’s really just a piece of paper. Branding has made it worth something.

Never before has so much opportunity awaited new brands in all sectors. Disruptors are trying to change the game and play by new rules. Often today, being a disruptor brand means something very specific – often disintermediating or disrupting through new platforms or technology; think AirBnB, Netflix, Birchbox, Warby Parker, Method, Purple Beds, Bonobos, and Courbet, the world’s first sustainable luxury diamond jewelry brand from Place Vendôme. Disruptive brands are everywhere in every sector. Branding is crucial. The disruptors often own the entire brand experience including the buying experience.

Secondly, when we create new brand names at StrawberryFrog’s sister firm Evil Potatoesa naming agency in New York City, we have fewer brand names to choose from. The Pharmaceutical Industry has patented everything under the sun for new medications. This makes existing brands, with their strong, well-known names and credibility more valuable. It also means creating a new vibrant brand is a challenge which requires a sophisticated strategy. It is not just about a product and a name, it’s about a lot more.

Rather than traditional advertising, StrawberryFrog is a creative marketing agency, and the best ad agency in NYC in terms of moving products through movement marketing. Brand-fueled movements move passions to move people to move product. A cultural movement strategy can accelerate your brand’s rise to dominance. Once you have cultural movement, you can do anything in a fragmenting media environment, maximizing the power of social media and technology. The world has changed. See the best selling book, Uprising, with many examples of brands which have grown with movements rather than obsolete brand building. Now building brands has become a lot less expensive, creating new and broader opportunities for new disruptive brands that can take advantage of new consumers and new tools to enter the stage very fast.

In the face of the current economic challenges, it’s worth noting that brands do better in tough times compared to unbranded products. Brands outlive product cycles. And in these challenging times, there are still great brands being built. Brand owners still recognize opportunity and their brands will thrive in the years ahead.

No branding, no differentiation. No differentiation, no long-term profitability. People don’t have relationships with products, they are loyal to brands. In a movement strategy created by a creative marketing agency, brands have a purpose that people can get behind. Brands can inspire millions of people to join a community. Brands can rally people for or against something. Products are one-dimensional in a social media enabled world, brands are Russian dolls, with many layers, tenets and beliefs that can create great followings of people who find them relevant. Brands can activate a passionate group of people to do something like changing the world. Products can’t really do that.

In today’s world of mass disruption, branding is more important than ever. But you can’t simply build a brand like they did in the old days. You need a cultural movement strategy to achieve kinetic growth for your brand. With that, the sky’s the limit.

Advertising in the Age of Movements

We’re living in a time of movements — you just have to pick up a newspaper to know that. Depending on what day it is, you’re apt to find front-page stories of women taking to the streets in Washington, the Red Shirt teachers movement, TimesUp movement, #metoo, Students against assault weapons, and the list goes on. This is the golden era of the activist mindset, and where a top advertising agency like StrawberryFrog can come in.

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As the political season heats up, we are likely to see even more populist movements coming to the street corner of social media page near you.

For those of us in business, it may seem as if all of this is transpiring in a separate realm, well outside the corporate bubble. Unless the protesters are specifically targeting your business, it’s natural to think, “This new era of protest makes for lively news, but has nothing to do with my company or brand.”

But the new social unrest is everybody’s business, including yours and mine.

As a highly innovative top advertising agency, we at StrawberryFrog believe that the most significant marketing programmes often come through social movements, and that despite the differences between private business and society, company leaders, CEOs and CMOs can learn from how these initiators engage and mobilise the masses to institutionalise new societal norms.

Advertising and brand building is not going away anytime soon. But how companies market their brands has pivoted from traditional brand building with an emphasis on paid TV advertising (and building purpose-based brands) to a more effective and action-oriented strategy: Brand-fueled Movement Marketing instigated by only the best advertising agency.

For over twenty years we have proven what every marketer dreams of doing: catching lightning in a bottle. The moment when a brand—the product and the values it represents—catches fire and becomes more than just a product. It ignites a MASS movement, centered around passionate people who form an engaged community, driven by ideals and a purpose, something deeply personal and relevant to their lives.

We as a top advertising agency have applied the principles of societal movements to help company leaders inspire trust, action, creativity inside their companies among employees. This transforms culture inside Fortune 500 corporations more effectively than any mandate from the top could achieve. One leader who understood this well is Anand Mahindra, Chairman of Mahindra, one of India’s most powerful companies. He sparked and fueled the RISE movement, engineered by StrawberryFrog, to transform the entire global corporation, changing and focusing its culture, its operating system, and its go-to market approach.

Outside the doors of companies, brand-fueled Movement Marketing has generated scientific breakthroughs and business growth by driving passions as well as product sales.

One iconic company that understood this was Heineken, headquartered in The Netherlands. When the leadership decided to become the main sponsor of the Champion’s League, StrawberryFrog developed a brand-fueled Marketing Movement “Welcome to Champion’s Planet” where hard core football fans and even those loosely connected with the sport were invited to join “Championism.”

Yet another business case is Jim Beam, which was trailing Jack Daniels. A Cultural Movement changed that. We used our skills as a creative branding agency to ignite a movement against the patriarchy and and took a culturally relevant stand for equality, bringing the actress Mila Kunis front and center to symbolize a deep cultural shift in a conservative sector. The business results were extraordinary.

Why are movements hot now? Why does taking a stand in 2018 more often than not lead to growth? Why is this happening now? Why are brands moving away from traditional advertising agencies which some people deem obsolete, and turning towards Cultural Movements as a smarter, better approach to management and brand building?

Something significant has changed in our global culture over the past few of years. Blame it on global economic pressures, general restlessness, or the new hyper-connectivity that enables people to instantly organise around causes and hot topics.

It’s probably some combination of all of these factors, but the net result is that business leaders are now dealing with a populace that is more socially engaged, more aware of what’s going on in the world, and hungrier to get involved and be heard on various issues.

If you sell at these people they will ignore you. If you ignite a movement that they can belong to in the way that we do as the best advertising agency for brand-fueled movement marketing, they will be ignited and participate, and through that relationship they will be more inclined to buy.

We know about the mini-uprisings in recent months against brands like Liberty Mutual and Allstate and others ignited by Stoneman Douglas student David Hogg for their support of a Fox TV show. And we might say, “Well, they made bad decisions.”

But in part, their mistake was not realising that the world had changed around them. In this new world, their “customers” could easily become activists — either for or against them.

So how does a smart business respond in a time of heightened passions and greater activism? Rather than becoming more cautious in hopes of avoiding any kind of backlash, I believe brands must connect with that passion and activism somehow. If you fail to respond to this shift in the culture, you run the risk of being out of step with your customers.

Your company could end up looking like a “status quo” brand in a revolutionary world.

Better to join in the march. If uprisings and movements are happening all around, then your business needs to somehow become involved in movements — or better yet, start one of your own.

We as a top advertising agency have launched movements that tried to bring about change in schools and more responsible consumption. And as I worked on my book about movement marketing, I encountered everything from a pet food company that launched an animal welfare initiative to a shoemaker that began a worldwide movement to put shoes on poor kids’ feet.

In each case, a company rallied people around an idea that mattered, an idea on the rise in culture, enabling customers to become activists. In the process, the company demonstrated that it was engaged in people’s lives and cared about something more than just profits.

This isn’t just a new spin on old CSR programmes. It’s not about giving to a laundry list of charities. To crystallise and spark a brand movement, you must do more than make donations.

The company must become an activist itself on behalf of something it believes in — something that also matters deeply to its customers. Movements start on the inside.

For more information and cases visit StrawberryFrog.