November 23, 2014

THE HUB: Vermont Hummus Company: a focus on integrity

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By Becka Gregory

Observer staff

October 17th, 2013

In 2010, Brian Martell laid out two goals to reach—getting fit and finding a different, more independent source of work. Hummus was the answer to both.

Martell launched the Vermont Hummus Company in his kitchen in Williston after leaving City Market, where he worked as a buyer. Hummus had become a staple food in Martell’s diet in an effort to increase his health, and he headed into the kitchen to start making it himself. Since then, the business has moved to a commercial space in South Burlington, producing about 1,000 tubs of hummus a week, sometimes more in the busier summer months when farmers’ markets are bustling.

Vermont Hummus Company started selling hummus at the Burlington Farmers’ market and has expanded in the last three years to supply most Vermont-owned grocery stores and co-ops from Royalton to Newport, such as Natural Provisions, City Market and Healthy Living.

“There’s been no marketing dollar spent to promote Vermont Hummus Company, it’s all been word of mouth, which is great because it allows growth naturally,” Martell said. “I don’t ever have to tell a store I can’t deliver because I don’t have enough products.”

Sustained growth is the plan for Vermont Hummus Company, and Martell aims to focus on getting his hummus into stores in southern Vermont in the near future.

But if you plan of getting your Vermont Hummus at the Burlington Farmers’ Market, come early. Crowds of customers surrounding the Vermont Hummus Company booth at the market faithfully purchase the artisan batches Martell brings to market. Martell likes to “use the farmers’ market as a place to try out new flavors and get feedback; the customers appreciate having that kind of input.”

A simple display at the market combined with Martell’s hands-off marketing strategy “allows the quality of the product to speak for itself.”

Vermont Hummus Company carries flavors like caramelized onion or roasted red pepper and all the flavors are low sugar, gluten free, high in protein and low carb.

Clayton Squires is a devout Vermont Hummus Company customer.

“Brian is innovative in the sense that there are always new flavors and seasonal flavors,” he said. “He is so small that he can cater to what people really like.”

The wholesale batches Martell prepares for grocery stores and co-ops like City Market and Natural Provisions are more traditional, but the farmers’ market gives him an opportunity to experiment with exotic flavors like pumpkin sage. Whether traditional or exotic, Vermont Hummus doesn’t taste like the larger brands because “all the ingredients are raw,” Martell said. “The garbanzo beans are dried, not canned. There are plenty of shortcuts we could take, but it just doesn’t make sense. It makes a huge difference in flavor. A big part of our product is integrity.”

Martell plans to open a commissary kitchen in South Burlington by this December, giving other artisan food producers a chance to move out of their home kitchens and into a larger, more productive space. Keeping the costs for participants as low as possible is a major part of Martell’s goal, as many small food business owners don’t have to capital required to pay large amounts for just a few hours of kitchen time each month.

“Helping those people you know through the businesses is the main priority,” says Martell.

Vermont Hummus Company will be at the winter Burlington Farmers’ Market, located in Memorial Auditorium every other Saturday this season starting Nov. 2.

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