Sabra plant holds opening ceremony

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Print this page Jessica Sabbath

Top officials from PepsiCo, Israel-based Strauss Group, Virginia and Chesterfield celebrated Wednesday the opening of the 110,000-square-foot plant for snack dipping company Sabra Dipping Co. 

Sabra, which produces America’s No. 1 selling hummus, is moving its operations from a 24,000-square-foot factory in New York into an energy-efficient, 110,000-sqaure-foot factory in southern Chesterfield County.

The plant was built in just 13 months with help from state and local officials, using a “fast-track” project review process in Chesterfield.

“Your system that you have given us is excellent,” Sabra CEO Ronen Zohar said during a ceremony held under a tent in front of the plant. “You have been there for us, and I admire your efficiency.

“We now understand why the state of Virginia has the reputation for encouraging business,” Zohar said.

Indra Nooyi, chairwoman and CEO of PepsiCo, said Virginia provided a strategic location, equidistant from its largest markets — Florida and New York. “Thanks to your pro-business policies, I hope this is just a continuation of a journey we began long ago,” Nooyi said. PepsiCo employs about 3,000 workers in the state, she added.

The ceremony attracted a couple hundred people, including Gov. Bob McDonnell, Secretary of Commerce and Trade Jim Cheng and Ofra Strauss, chairwoman of Strauss Group, who traveled from Israel. Sabra is a joint venture of Strauss Ltd. and Frito-Lay, a business unit of PepsiCo.

While attendees waited for tours of the $60 million factory, guests were treated to a “culinary market” of Mediterranean and international cuisine, including, of course, samplings of Sabra’s hummus flavors. Sabra is currently traveling around the country with the market to promote its brand.

The Chesterfield plant, which opened in April, already employs 120 workers. The company is still hiring, and that number is expected to grow to 265 or 300 workers by the end of the year, according to Plant Operations Director Brent Fowler. It is currently producing almost 1,000 pounds of hummus a month, but that will eventually grow to 3,000 tons a month.

The company has hired many former employees from the Qimonda plant in Henrico County, a manufacturer of semiconductor chips that closed last year. “That has been a blessing for us,” Fowler said, who has worked for Frito-Lay for more 19 years. “The work force in Virginia is fantastic.”

The plant is currently producing four flavors of Sabra hummus (classic, roasted garlic, roasted red pepper and spicy). By September, all 14 brands of hummus will be made at the Chesterfield plant.

The plant was built to standards for Silver certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. The plant’s energy-efficient features include a 20 percent reduction in energy costs because of improved insulation and a reflective roof; a contract to use 35 percent of its electricity from renewable sources; low-flow faucets; the recycling of all water for sewage transfer and landscape irrigation; bike racks and showers for employees; and construction using 20 percent recycled materials.

Sabra was founded in 1986 in Astoria, N.Y. Strauss Ltd., a large Israeli food group, purchased a majority share in Sabra in March 2008. PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay North America formed a joint venture with Strauss in March 2008 to operate under the name Sabra Dipping Co.

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