Sisters and founders of Soom Foods, Amy, Jackie, and Shelby Zitelman, learned a lot about American consumers’ understanding and experience with tahini before launching it first tahini products into the US market in 2013.
“What we found was, if people knew what tahini was at the time, which most didn’t, they only had a can in the back of their fridge and they used it once to make hummus and they threw it away six months later because they never used it again,” Amy Zitelman told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We really wanted to take tahini out of the international aisle and into the nut butter category, and that took a lot of layered intention between buyers and consumers and press and all these things to teach them this is actually what tahini is.”
Soom Foods products are sold online through the company’s website and on Amazon, as well as select natural and specialty retailers. The company has also tapped into the culinary world working with restaurant chefs who are experimenting with tahini and highlighting the sesame paste on his or her menus.
Versatility of date syrup
Amy Zitelman said they hope to apply the same go-to-market strategy with silan packaged in 12.3-ounce squeeze bottle, which they believe is just as versatile, if not
more, than tahini.
Date syrup contains 61 calories per tablespoon serving and a lower glycemic index than other comparable sweeteners, claimed the company.
“We feel like silan is this great ingredient that has not lived up to its potential yet in the American market,” said Zitelman.
Consumer education on how to use date syrup will be a process that will likely first start with simple swaps of typical sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar).
“The first tier of consumer education is the sweet side of it. We love to encourage people to drizzle it on French toast or waffles and pancakes,” Zitelman said, adding that silan has become her substitute for honey, drizzling it on Greek yogurt and oatmeal.
Eventually, the Zitelman sisters hope that consumers will be get more bold using the ingredient in baking and savory applications as a marinade or sauce for protein.
‘We see our future in online retail’
Soom Foods' experience with national retailers has been challenging when it first launched tahini, according to Zitelman, who believes tahini should be placed in the nut butter aisle in order to encourage consumers to use it as substitute in their cooking.
“We’ve had a really hard time carving our place in the nut butter category for tahini, the reality of retail is that it’s very competitive and it’s hard to know what people are seeing or experiencing when they your product on the shelf,” Zitelman explained.
“If somebody were to pick up our product and put it back down, it’s hard to know why they chose not to buy it, and for us, that’s very scary.”
For now, Soom Foods remains highly focused on gaining a strong presence online through Amazon, aiming to be part of the online retailer’s Prime service in 2019.
Zitelman mentioned that customer feedback and satisfaction is also much easier to engage in an online environment, and that getting its products quickly and easily to customers is the brand’s top priority.
“In the same way we are committed to consumer education we want to make it easy for people to order it. We really see our future in online retail.”
‘Date syrup has a little bit of an advantage over tahini’
Consumer interest in global flavors (particularly from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean) has given rise to new ingredients, a trend that will continue as long as consumers remain interested in plant-based eating, noted Zitelman.
“I think it’s conveniently consistent with the other dietary preferences that are the underlying current to why people are liking Middle eastern and Mediterranean food, which is people are trying to eat a lot more vegetables or more simple food,” Zitelman said.
Proud of the where Soom Foods has taken tahini, Zitelman sees the future as even brighter for silan.
“I will say, date syrup has a little bit of an advantage over tahini from five years ago because there are other people putting date syrups on the market,” Zitelman said.
D’Vash Organics, for instance, has launched its date nectar into the US market with a similar goal of making silan a pantry staple.
“When a category needs a lot of consumer education, the more people doing it, the better because it’s really hard to reach people.”