Hope has high hopes for high-tech hummus

BOULDER — Hummus is one of the world’s oldest foods, but a local company thinks a new, high-tech way of making it — using high-pressure processors — will be the key to realizing its ambitious plan to become a nationally known name in the natural- and organic-foods industry.

Hope Foods is a Boulder-based natural-foods producer whose flagship product is organic, vegan and gluten-free Hope Hummus. The hummus comes in several varieties, such as organic jalapeno cilantro, sweet potato and Thai coconut curry.

To realize its ambitions, Hope Foods needs to solve one of the biggest problems all natural-foods producers face: how to extend shelf life without preservatives or compromising quality. A new facility in Louisville, into which the manufacturer will move this spring, will be crucial to that.

Hope Foods LLC in January bought the 58,900-square-foot warehouse at 1850 Dogwood St. in Louisville for $2,874,001, or $48 per square foot. The property will become a food-manufacturing facility, warehouse and office.

Hope Foods is installing a line of new, state-of-the-art high-pressure processors. High-pressure processing is a new technology that uses pressure to kill bacteria that cause spoilage, which allows Hope Hummus to extend its shelf life. Using pressure instead of heat pasteurization means the food retains its flavor.

“It’s an alternative to heat pasteurization,” marketing manager Stephen Villanueva said. “For the natural-foods industry, for people who don’t want to add heat or don’t want to add preservatives, you put it under extreme pressure, like 87,000 psi (pounds per square inch), and it literally busts up the bacteria.”

“We’re hoping to get two to four times the shelf life you normally get for a product,” Villanueva said.

Problems with shelf life hit the company hard last summer, and for a few months it was a “touch-and-go” situation.

“We would have been profitable at the year-and-a-half mark, except we had shelf-life issues,” Villanueva said.

Hope Foods researched innovative ways to extend shelf life, and high-pressure processing looked to be the solution.

Hope Foods’ plan is to add enough lines to the Louisville facility so it can provide high-pressure processing to other food producers, which would open up a potentially lucrative revenue stream for the company, Villanueva said.

“Everybody who has a natural product struggles with the same thing,” he said.

The company has about 50 employees, with about a dozen in Boulder and eight or nine in its manufacturing facility in Denver.

Along with the way it’s made and the unique flavors, Hope Hummus brands itself as a product with superior taste, ingredients and texture when compared with the mass-produced, paste-like hummus brands on the market, Villanueva said.

When the company launched about two years ago, there didn’t seem to be any products that were direct competition.

“We saw that there was a hole in the market. There were a lot of hummuses, but there were no organic, vegan products,” Villanueva said. “This is a spot we could get in, and the initial investments weren’t extremely high, so we jumped into it.”

Villanueva said the niche Hope Foods is trying to capture with its new products is for pre-dinner entertainment foods, which are the items customers would put out before dinner parties.

Since its launch about two years ago, Hope Hummus has been picked up by Whole Foods Markets and Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage. The brand is for sale in mountain and southwestern states and parts of California.

Hope Foods is pushing into new markets and is in the process of negotiating a distribution deal with a large national grocery chain, which Villanueva declined to name. Hope’s products should be on that chain’s shelves this spring, he said.

Hope Foods has ambitious plans to extend beyond hummus and the region. It is in the process of rolling out new lines of crackers, dips, spreads and “infused products” which could add alcohol and fresh fruit to products. It also recently acquired a company in the Midwest that makes lentil dips.

The goal is to eventually be a nationally known player in the market niche, Villanueva said.

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