ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Inside storyAnti-Israel activists began targeting company 14 years ago

Sabra hummus’s US market share has dipped. Why large-scale BDS isn’t to blame

More than Mideast politics or an uptick in a long-term boycott sticker campaign, a 2021 salmonella scare made the company unpalatable to consumers

Reporter at The Times of Israel

Sabra hummus stickered with anti-Israel message in the US, January 2024 (L) and packages of Sabra hummus on display in Los Angeles, April 2021 (Facebook screen capture / The Image Party/Shutterstock.com)
Sabra hummus stickered with anti-Israel message in the US, January 2024 (L) and packages of Sabra hummus on display in Los Angeles, April 2021 (Facebook screen capture / The Image Party/Shutterstock.com)

NEW YORK — Sabra hummus sales in the US took a massive hit and the iconic brand will not recover its formerly dominant market share, Shai Babad, Strauss Group’s CEO, told analysts and reporters at the end of November.

Perhaps surprisingly, the intensifying anti-Israel BDS stickering campaign against Sabra products is not the main factor in the brand’s slippage.

Instead, multiple salmonella and listeria contamination recalls — alongside US superstores looking to diversify hummus offerings — are cited as responsible for the drastic dip in Sabra sales since 2021.

“We have been told by the big retailers such as Costco, Walmart, Target and others that they are not going to put all the eggs in one basket and we’re not going to be the only one providing them with hummus,” Babad told analysts.

It certainly doesn’t help that in the past three months, “BDS” activists against Israel have kicked a 14-year-old stickering campaign against Sabra hummus into higher gear. At hundreds of supermarkets and other stores in North America and Europe, stickers denouncing Israel have been placed on Sabra product containers.

Many of the stickers are yellow and say that buying Sabra hummus means “you support Zionism, apartheid, and the genocide of Palestinians.”

Anti-Sabra sticker (X screen capture)

At the start of 2021, Sabra Dipping Company — which is jointly owned by Strauss Group and PepsiCo — sold US supermarkets nearly two-thirds of their hummus.

Babad said Strauss Group was witnessing “very complicated and difficult times” since the October 7 massacres, in which 3,000 Hamas terrorists attacked Israel and murdered 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Strauss Group employees and their family members were among the murdered and 240 people kidnapped into Gaza, said Babad, whose company has several plants in the region.

Bouts of salmonella

In March 2021, a salmonella contamination recall on products made at Sabra’s Virginia factory took a devastating toll on the brand, which lost half its market share in just one quarter.

Illustrative: Cases of Sabra Classic Hummus are viewed on the shelf of a grocery store on April 9, 2015, in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

But even before the disastrous spring 2021 recall, Sabra products faced intermittent recalls for potential listeria and salmonella contamination going back to 2015.

Babad and Strauss Group did not respond to several interview requests from The Times of Israel. A Strauss company WhatsApp page operator in Israel acknowledged receiving an interview request.

“We still believe we can grow, we still believe we can get a higher market share but we don’t think we’re going to get back to 60%,” Babad told analysts in November.

‘South African apartheid’

The campaign against Sabra hummus started on the US West Coast 14 years ago, when anti-Israel activists began denouncing Sabra for donating food to the IDF Golani Brigade.

The anti-Sabra boycott became associated with the BDS movement against Israel in North America, with student groups at several universities — including DePaul and Princeton — campaigning unsuccessfully for their schools to ditch Sabra products.

The rhetoric deployed by anti-Sabra activists was similar across campuses. Student activists denounced Sabra for sending food to the Golani Brigade, which the students said perpetrated genocide.

In 2019, the Dickinson College Student Senate passed a resolution endorsing a campus ban on Sabra hummus.

Anti-Sabra ad in 2024 (Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee)

“The IDF commits human rights abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza,” according to the resolution made by students at one of Pennsylvania’s most storied colleges.

“The support of Sabra products helps the Strauss Group support the Israeli Defense Force brigade, which maintains a cycle of oppression for Palestinian peoples in violation of international law,” said the resolution.

Two years ago, Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine activists protested in Harvard Yard and urged the administration to cut ties with Sabra. Chants shouted by participants included, “Don’t buy products laced with hate, Sabra funds a racist state.”

Student Joshua D. Willcox was interviewed by Harvard’s student newspaper, The Crimson, regarding his leadership of the campus anti-Israel movement in 2022.

“We don’t want this company to be in our dining halls,” said Willcox, referring to Sabra. “This is a general move to not support and not allow any money to go towards companies that involve themselves in an apartheid state.”

Added the anti-Israel activist, “We’re borrowing from the same kind of movement that people tried to do when they wanted to end South African Apartheid,” said Willcox.

A few weeks after the Sabra protest, Willcox founded Harvard’s “Keffiyeh Thursdays,” in which students, staff, and faculty wear a keffiyeh on Thursdays to signal support of Palestinians.

Pro-Palestine, anti-Israel supporters gather for a rally at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 14, 2023. (Joseph Prezioso / AFP)

Following the October 7 assault on Israel by 3,000 Hamas terrorists, hundreds of Harvard students, professors, and staff have been seen wearing the Mideast-inspired scarf on Thursdays, according to the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee Insta page.

Willcox’s vision of a Harvard campus culture aligned against Israel has not lost traction since he graduated last year. Sabra hummus, however, is still served inside Harvard’s austere dining halls.

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