Despite Brief Comeback, Packaged Hummus Still Shunned by Israelis

Sales of prepared salads and processed meats had a revival before Independence Day, but retailers think it was just a blip

PepsiCo Inc. Sabra brand hummus are displayed for sale at a ShopRite Holdings Ltd. grocery store in Stratford, Connecticut, U.S., Aug. 3, 2011.
Paul Taggart, Bloomberg

Hot dogs and commercially prepared hummus – foods Israelis have been shunning lately, presumably over health concerns – made a brief comeback at Independence Day cookouts this year. But Israelis still aren’t eating them in the same quantities they once did.

According to data obtained by TheMarker from the market research firm Storenext, sales in the prepared salad and processed-meat categories rebounded to nearly their 2015 levels, before a sudden concern about healthy eating caused shoppers to leave them on supermarket shelves.

Storenext said that in the week preceding the holiday, the last week of April, 13.1 percent of all shopping carts included containers of hummus and other prepared salads – up from 12.8 percent in 2016 but down from 14.2 percent in 2015. About half as many grocery receipts, 6.1 percent, included processed meats, up from 5.7 percent last year and 6.5 percent in 2015.

In October 2015, Israelis suddenly and drastically cut their purchases of cold cuts and other processed meats. The proximate cause was a World Health Organization report that eating such foods can cause colorectal cancer.

The WHO went so far as to put processed meat in the same category as tobacco and asbestos in terms of the “sufficient evidence” associating exposure to these substances to cancer.

Hummus comes as close as anything to Israel’s national dish, but its turn came the following January, as consumer opted for healthier alternatives to store-bought brands in the wake of a television documentary on the risks of consuming commercially prepared salads. They began making their own at home or buying it from restaurants.

Sources in the food industry said this week they don’t think the Israeli public has come to think any better of salads or salamis. Rather, they were responding to deep discounting by desperate food makers.

“The manufacturers were selling their products for pennies,” said one senior executive at a major supermarket chain, who asked not to be identified.

“It was mainly Osem’s Shamir Salads brand, which has recently lost a lot of market share. They would do anything to overtake Strauss’ Achla brand. We saw hummus selling for 2 shekels or in one-plus-one specials. Also hot dogs and processed meats — the makers did much deeper discounting than they did a year ago.”

Eli Soglowek, the CEO of the meat processor that bears his family’s name, insists that discounts weren’t the only reason shoppers reacquired their taste for the food. “We actually discounted less aggressively compared to 2016. Consumers are finally fed up with everyone telling them that nothing is healthy. They understand that processed meat is not as bad as it was presented to them,” Soglowek said.

“With all due respect, obesity is the most disturbing phenomenon and when you tell people to stop eating meat, they end of eating carbohydrates – and that’s definitely not good,” he added.

Rami Levy, who controls the supermarket chain of the same name, said he doubted the Independence Day increase would last.

“Independence Day isn’t the standard. On the one hand, with time people forget about all the research reports and articles, but you have to remember that on Independence Day and Lag B’omer [which was celebrated this week] people buy huge quantities of food and so they give more thought to price,” Levy said.

Added a manager at a salad maker: “Restoring confidence in category takes time, but it happens and will go hand in hand with increased sales of processed meats.” But he warns, “All it takes in a another food safety scandal or critical study and all the improvement will be reversed.”