Hummus is no longer just a tasty treat available at Mediterannean restaurants or Greek cafes; hummus represents big business and one of the most competitive companies producing the popular dip is based in Houston and extending its product reach to the international marketplace.
Pita Pal Foods, co-owned by husband-wife duo Joseph and Melissa Navon, emerged from the ashes of the U.S. economic recession after 9/11.
“We moved from high-tech job to high-tech job because a bunch of our offices were getting shut down,” says Melissa Navon in an interview with FOX 26 News. “We want our children to have a stable foundation and not move all over the world like we had been doing. And we want to move back to Houston.”
When Joseph and Melissa were trying to determine their best business fit, they realized that there was a lack of healthy food in the U.S. and plenty of reports that the country was a global leader with respect to obesity.
“Just because of the recession, people started eating more at home and less in restaurants. The Mediterranean diet started to take hold,” says Melissa. She contrasted the Mediterranean meals from the low-carb high-protein Atkins Diet, which was popular in the 2000s.
Whole Foods Market, H-E-B and Costco are among the stores that carry Pita Pal Foods products.
“We are nationwide and international,” says Melissa. “We’re a ten-year-old company and I think we just got in at the right time in the business.”
The Houston Business Journal extended an honor to Pita Pal Foods in 2012 by naming the company as one of the “Houston Fast 100,” that is, the 100 fastest-growing private companies in the Houston area. Melissa attended a luncheon ceremony hosted by HBJ at the Hilton Houston Post Oak on Sept. 7 where her company was recognized as the 7th fastest growing company on the list.
“I can say that we more than double our business every year, so hopefully in the next few years, we might still be on the top ten, if we’re lucky. We’re going to work to achieve that goal,” says Melissa.
More success is projected for Pita Pal Foods as the company will shift operations from 18th Street in the Heights to the emerging district of Houston near BBVA Compass Stadium.
“I’m very excited. We have purchased a plant, an existing plant that has been vacant for a few years, in an up-and-coming area that is trying to change from a low socio-economic area into a revitalized area,” says Melissa.
The new Pita Pal Foods manufacturing facility will be located in the intersection of Canal Street and East Navigation Boulevard.
“We’re going to bring a lot of jobs to the area and we are going to quadruple our capacity, more than quadruple our capacity,” says Melissa. She described the move as invigorating and one that will lead Pita Pal Foods to be “one of the largest hummus and gourmet salad manufacturers in the nation.”
What can job seekers expect when applying to work at the new Pita Pal Foods building?
“Houston is not a mecca for food manufacturing. I would say that Dallas has more food manufacturing than Houston,” admits Melissa to FOX 26. “It’s nice to have some machine operating skills, some warehousing skills, some food handling training.”
Because a company’s success depends on all its employees, Melissa also encourages job candidates to “be a hard worker and want to take, you know, be willing to help us take our company to the future and elevate it to the highest level possible in food safety and quality.”
Melissa is quite proud to share the final component to each of the tasty Pita Pal Foods products. “We put on the back of our labels, ‘The last ingredient is a lot of love,’ and it’s true.”
Melissa credited Houston with an “amazing infrastructure,” including the Port of Houston, a low cost of living among major U.S. cities, and a “dynamic workforce here in Houston thanks to the oil and medical industries.”
“It’s really important that we live in a very vital community like Houston.”
Pita Pal Foods, Melissa admits, is able to succeed in the marketplace despite some stiff competition from major firms with plenty of capital resources.
“I would say our major competitors are PepsiCo, Nestle and Kraft Foods. Those are the major players in the nation for hummus,” says Melissa. “We’re starting to edge a lot of those competitors out of the market slowly.”
In addition to the small business birth of Pita Pal Foods in the early 2000s, Melissa explains that the company has served as a model for environmental responsibility from the beginning. She tells FOX 26 she decided to implement a wind and water energy program for the first Pita Pal factory and has referred to the company’s environmental standards on both its website and the packaging of its products.
“I would venture to say that probably most of my major competitors are not on wind and water which means that they have a lower cost of operating their plants, but it’s something that is very important to me and I think that a lot of the customers appreciate that,” adds Melissa.
Of the three product lines offered by Pita Pal Foods, one is classified as organic while another is classified as Kosher, more specifically Parve. Melissa says that the products appeal not only to Kosher and organic foods consumers, but also to vegetarians of various religious backgrounds because “they know what when they see the Kosher symbol that that factory is inspected, all the ingredients have been inspected.” She also reminds FOX 26 that the organic product line is certified by the State of Texas, which means the company is subject to various audits to “make sure we are achieving the highest goal in safety and quality.”