CMO Q&A: Ken Kunze, Sabra Dipping Co.

Ken Kunze, CMO at Sabra Dipping Co., talks to Lindsay Stein about leveraging social media to engage current and future consumers.

Ken Kunze, CMO at Sabra Dipping Co., talks to Lindsay Stein about leveraging social media to engage current and future consumers.

How does marketing and PR work at Sabra Dipping Co.?
When I started three years ago, the marketing department was about a year and a half old. If you think about how far the department and brand have come and how hummus is much more on people's radars than it was three years ago, we have made dramatic progress.

We're small, but it all works together. The brand team has responsibilities for managing all of the disciplines of the marketing mix and the outside agency partners, such as Seymour Public Relations.

Every opportunity or touchpoint with a consumer is an important interaction for Sabra. As we have grown the business and ramped up marketing efforts and spend behind the brand, communications has become more important.

A lot of our early success was distribution driven. Now it's more about engaging the consumer and building household penetration – and the communications platform is a big part of what's doing that. PR has become more important in driving our current growth and will be even more crucial in driving future growth.

Sabra is focusing on introducing people to the brand's various flavors of hummus.

What's going on in social media?
We're growing rapidly. One of the ways we are doing that is by bringing new people into the franchise, but we still have an existing [fan] base, so we look at social media more for consumers who are already engaged with the Sabra brand.

Consumers love the hummus we produce and the brand. They want to engage with it. Our audience loves to discover and share new things and we look at social media as a way to engage them.

Hummus is extremely versatile as a food, so there are many different ways to use and eat it. Even if you are a current user, there are new things to discover about how versatile it is. Social media is a great way to expand that word of mouth. We've also done different things from a contest standpoint on our social accounts, and we're starting to ramp up our activities on Pinterest.

Tell me what is happening with the brand's factory in Virginia.
We started in a small brick building in Queens, NY, and outgrew it in every dimension imaginable. Three years ago we built the world's largest hummus factory just outside of Richmond, VA. The thought was that the factory was going to carry us for a number of years, but because of growth we needed to add capacity. We've been working on a significant expansion. When it's finished, 140 new jobs will be created.

We just completed a Center of Excellence, which is really an R&D innovation center that's attached to the plant. It's a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility. It's a kitchen as well as a space to invite consumers so that we can do a lot of work with the food scientists on the team and have some fun in developing new flavors and products. As part of the Tastemaker program, we handpick influencers, bloggers, media, and selected guests to have a whole experience there.

What's the Dip to the Fullest campaign?
When I started we had between 30% and 40% of the market. We felt the market was going to be very cutthroat with competitors such as Tribe and Athenos, so we repositioned Sabra from being a Mediterranean hummus to more of a global fresh dips brand that plays across different categories.

We now have 60% share of the market. Year do date Information Resources Inc. reports Sabra dollar growth up 24%, with the category up 17% through June 16, 2013. We have 16.1% household penetration, up from 6.97% three years ago, and we are now focused on driving the next wave of penetration because Americans do not really grow up with hummus, chickpeas, or garbanzo beans as a staple of the dinner-plate diet.

Dip to the Fullest educates consumers about hummus. The current work is very product focused, but we see it eventually evolving into a lifestyle campaign.

We are trying to drive awareness and introduce people to this great-tasting product. We do a ton of sampling. We have a fleet of food trucks that go around the country and give out significant numbers of 2-ounce samples. It's been a great way to introduce people to the product. 

Any health-oriented pushes?
Hummus is on trend in a lot of different ways. People are looking for ‘better for you' snacks and plant-based protein and they're eating more on the go. The product and brand fit all those wants and needs, so we're bullish about our opportunities.

[The health aspects] are where a lot of the social media, blogger outreach, and PR works for us because the lead thing is about taste, so most of the things we say overtly are from a taste orientation. But because it is in the better-for-you realm, people who talk about it convey the healthy aspects for us. Seymour PR has been great at getting editors, bloggers, and writers to fill out that message.

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