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Sabra Dipping Company To Open Plant In Virginia

Maker of refrigerated dips and spreads plans to open a manufacturing plant in Chesterfield County, creating about 260 jobs beginning in mid-2010.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Snack dip company Sabra cut the ribbon Wednesday on its new Virginia manufacturing plant as the joint venture with PepsiCo goes after a growing American appetite for hummus.

New York-based Sabra Dipping Co., which makes a range of refrigerated dips and spreads that are all certified kosher and vegetarian, is a U.S. and Canadian joint venture between Strauss Group and PepsiCo Inc..

The new $70 million, 110,000-square-foot Chesterfield County plant took about 14 months to build and is expected to employ about 300. Sabra began making hummus at the factory about a month ago and plans to have all of its manufacturing at the new facility by September. Sabra also is looking to relocate its headquarters to Virginia.

During the past decade, hummus -- a combination of pureed chickpeas and spices -- has moved beyond the ethnic food niche and solidly into the American mainstream, filling supermarket refrigerator cases and showing up on restaurant menus nationwide.

"We make more hummus in the company in two hours than I sold in a year," said Yehuda Pearl, who ran Sabra out of a small kitchen when the company started in 1986. "Before, there was no market ... people didn't know what it was."

Sabra says it represents more than 40 percent of the market that is valued at about $312 million and plans to serve the growing demand for healthy dips and spreads.

"Dipping in the (United) States is the biggest (market) in the world," said Sabra CEO Ronen Zohar.

The food industry is beginning to see consumers return to buying more snacks, with a growing focus on different products to stock their fridge and pantries, said Ann Mukherjee, the chief marketing officer for Frito-Lay North America, a division of PepsiCo.

"They're looking for new taste experiences, experiences that are a little bit more substantial, that are healthier, that are new tastes from around the world," Mukherjee said.

Sabra's products include hummus with vegetables and spices like spinach, artichoke, garlic and red pepper, as well as other vegetable dips and salads.

Strauss Group purchased a majority of Sabra in 2005. It formed the joint venture with PepsiCo in March 2008 after Ofra Strauss, who chairs the Strauss' board, brought a picnic basket into the office of PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi to discuss the partnership.

"This facility in Virginia really explodes the fruit and vegetable culture of PepsiCo and allows us to bring fresh vegetable dips, dairy dips and a whole range of new products to the U.S. consumer," Nooyi said. "It's the beginning of a long journey."

Company executives joined Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and local officials for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

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