Blake Wollman has gone from a food processor in his kitchen at home to a commercial kitchen in Randallstown. He's progressed from selling his product at farmers markets to two distributors placing it in 50 locations in the Mid-Atlantic region. Now, Wollman is poised for a major expansion.
By the end of 2014, he plans to triple the number of locations for his product, an all-natural, kosher hummus. "I want to saturate the Maryland market and penetrate the New York market," Wollman said of his company, The Wild Pea Hummous.
Wollman founded Wild Pea in 2010. The idea for the company grew out of his longtime restaurant, The Desert Café, in Mount Washington Village. The Mediterranean-style restaurant serves a variety of flavored hummus that Wollman, a self-taught chef and baker, created.
So popular is the hummus that Wollman, 36, a Pikesville resident and married father of two, began selling it at farmers markets. Two years went by when, the way he remembers it, one day a representative from Whole Foods, the grocery chain, approached him about carrying it in their stores.
"I thought, this might turn into a company. I thought, maybe I can get into Wegmans [grocery chain] as well," said Wollman, former president of the Mount Washington Village Merchants Association, who has a college degree in marketing and an entrepreneurial spirit. "I had to take the next step."
So Wollman embarked on his first manufacturing venture — and it was scary. "I went from my [home] Cuisinart to my $12,000 commercial machine," he said of the of the investment involved. "I was spending money, but I didn't know if I'd succeed."
Wild Pea's manufacturing facility is a commercial kitchen located in a business park at 9631 Liberty Road. The hummus' main ingredient, chick peas, is delivered, washed and cooked, in large metal containers. The chick peas are put into a commercial-size food processor. Garlic, lemon juice, tahini and flavoring are added.
The blended mixture then is placed in a filling machine and dispensed into plastic containers. The lids are attached, printed with the date and refrigerated until picked up for distribution. The container is 8.5 ounces, the standard size, and priced at $3.99 each.
One batch of the blended mixture makes 140 containers, a process that takes about 20 minutes from start to finish. "I oversee every container," said Wollman, who employs five part-time workers to help with production.
Wollman may spend the day making one variety of hummus or do five batches in a row before cleaning the machines and making another variety, depending on demand. Besides meeting state regulations to manufacture a food product, Wollman has chosen to get Star K kosher certification.
"I had customers requesting it," he said, "and in certain markets, like Seven Mile Market [in Baltimore] and in New York, it's important."
According to a 2013 article in The Wall Street Journal, hummus consumption is on the rise. The product dominates the "refrigerated flavor spread" category that, in 2012, had $530 million in sales, an increase of 11 percent from 2011 and 25 percent from 2010.
No better proof that the once-obscure delicacy is moving into the mainstream is a 2013 announcement from the National Football League that it has chosen Sabra hummus, the best-selling brand in the country, as its official dip sponsor.
Wild Pea can be found in grocery stores in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Wollman wants to expand his existing base and to get into the New York City area.
To that end, he is in talks with a small, independent New York grocery chain. He hopes to go from under $500,000 in annual sales to $750,000 in sales by the end of 2014.
Andy Hoffman, owner of Gourmet Again, a gourmet food market in Pikesville, began stocking Wild Pea hummus a couple of months ago. "I am pro locally made and a small business supporter," Hoffman said.
But he wouldn't carry an item that doesn't sell. Hoffman also stocks Sabra hummus. "Wild Pea sells two to one over Sabra. People in the area recognize the label, and they like the different flavors," he said of varieties like Old Bay, Honey Sesame, spicy Asian Fire, Black Truffle and garlicky Vampire. "They're creative and that's what Wollman needs to do to differentiate himself from the rest."