4 min read
Jesse Wolfe had a crazy idea: He wanted to build the Ben & Jerry’s of hummus. He created a brand called O’Dang Hummus in 2014, whipped up some wacky flavors, and started selling at farmers’ markets. Customers loved it. New employees eagerly joined to help O’Dang grow. Friends and family invested, sharing Wolfe’s vision.
Then, three years later, he gathered all his employees and partners to make an announcement: They were no longer selling hummus. “We had the whole room up in arms, especially investors,” Wolfe says. “They were like, ‘We invested in a hummus company! We bought the hummus dream! I don’t understand!’ ”
He had a good reason. He’d just gone through one of the hardest transitions an entrepreneur can make — when you test the market, discover flaws in your original plan, and realize that survival will require radical change. But as Wolfe learned, there’s also a bright side to this process. Oftentimes, while the first plan is failing, an entrepreneur can spot a far better opportunity along the way.
The trouble had begun at the retail level. Although farmers’ market sales were great, Wolfe struggled to get O’Dang onto any store shelves. Supermarkets always had the same response: The hummus shelf was already full, dominated by Sabra and a handful of other brands.
But a curious thing was happening at the farmers’ markets. Customers said they were putting O’Dang Hummus on their salads as a dressing. Wolfe tried it and loved how it tasted — but the hummus was too thick to really work. So he whipped up a thinner, hummus-based salad dressing, and it hit the spot.
Wolfe started experimenting. He bottled the salad dressings and brought them to meetings with retailers — not to sell, but to show off his ambitions. “I didn’t want them to go, ‘You’re a kid in a farmers’ market, so we’re not going to take you seriously,’ ” he says. “I wanted them to think we were a bigger company than we were.” (He even tried the same strategy during an appearance on Shark Tank.)
The retailers responded in an unexpected way. Instead of taking the hummus more seriously, they dismissed it, as always — but were dying to know more about the salad dressing.
In 2015, Publix placed an order that put the dressings in 400 stores, Wolfe’s first sale with a giant retailer. Two years later, Walmart ignored his hummus but ordered his dressings. Curious, Wolfe thought it was time for another experiment. For 60 days, he and his VP of sales would stop pitching hummus and focus on salad dressing. The result: so much retailer interest, they extended the test for another 60 days.
“I was like, OK, we’re onto something here,” Wolfe says. “We didn’t realize that what we had created, in essence, was the first plant-based salad dressing seen in an entirely dormant category — one we could wake up, like what Sabra had done with dip.”
This is why he called everyone into a room to say they’d stop selling hummus. It was time to pivot to a product retailers wanted. He convinced his team, reworked his manufacturing process, and saw immediate results. In 2017, he was in 400 stores. In 2018, he was in 4,000 stores. Near the end of 2019, he’s in more than 10,000.
Today, Wolfe is eager to continue changing. He saw what it did for his company — so what can it do next? He’s talking with retailers about other categories to disrupt. He’s wondering if he should drop “hummus” from his company’s name. (It’s still officially O’Dang Hummus.) And he knows that evolution is inevitable. “It’s scary, right? I built this thing literally with my bare hands and a couple of food processors,” he says. “But I’m open to hearing out everybody’s opinions and suggestions. I want to do what’s in the best interest of the business.”