Hummus is one of the most enduring snacks in the UK.
Brits consume 12,000 tonnes of the chickpea-based dip a year. At any one time, 40% of the population has a tub in the fridge, leading the UK to be dubbed the ‘hummus capital’ of Europe.
Waitrose claims it was the first UK supermarket to launch the dip 30 years ago, when it was considered an innovative dish from the Middle East.
“To set it in context, when hummus was launched in the late 80s, it was a time when supermarkets called aubergines and green peppers ‘exotic vegetables,’” said Dr Sue Bailey, food historian and scientist.
“People had started to travel far more. They ate these delicious things on holiday in Greece and wanted to enjoy them at home too.”
The earliest recorded recipe for a hummus-style dish dates from 13th-century Cairo – a cold puree of chickpeas with vinegar, pickled lemon, herbs and spices – but Bailey says it’s far older.
“It goes back potentially 3,000 years – people have been eating it for millennia. We were just a little slow to catch on,” she explained.
Deciding that the classic recipe needed a bit of a reinvention, Waitrose has just released two new versions: turmeric hummus with pickled red cabbage and pomegranate; and a lemon hummus with spiced apricot, raisin and sunflower seeds.
Waitrose sells a pot of hummus every second on its busiest weeks, with 14 varieties on sale.
The Essential Waitrose Houmous makes up 82% of all Essential Waitrose dip sales and 74% of the total.
“Taramasalata and guacamole are the next best sellers, but hummus far outsells all other dips. We know that our customers love the original, but we’re always looking for ways to modernise this much loved delicatessen delicacy with new flavours and ingredients,” said Emma Hill, deli buyer at Waitrose.
“It’s continuing to rise in popularity too: year on year, weekly sales are up 10%.”
But experimentation with dips has been slow in the UK supermarket scene, with shelves generally stacked with hummus, tzatziki, sour cream and chive, and taramasalata – and not much else.
Tesco has 39 products under the dip category – many of which are different hummus varieties – while Sainsbury’s has a range of 34, also dominated by hummus.
By comparison, the Australian supermarket chain Woolworths has 101 different dip varieties, including things like beetroot, almond and corn relish, as well as combinations like chilli and lemongrass; roasted red capsicum, pecorino, cashews and basil; and blue cheese, fig and pistachio, to name a few.
Even Sparkie is crying out for creative party pleasers. So where does he think things can change?
The UK supermarket’s dips section could do with an overhaul, as every retailer seems to have the same selection and it’s hit and miss whether their versions are any good.
There are also very few branded options, which is usually the trigger for retailers to push up their own quality level – especially if you ignore hummus.
Dips are really popular on social media right now, but in a particular form that retail seems to be missing: hot dips. I think it’s something producers could put together extremely easily and cheaply too. An area worth consideration as party season approaches for the retailers.