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IOWA CITY - As with many other businesses, Oasis Falafel has seen a dip in business during coronavirus. Yet co-owner Ofer Sivan said its hummus has been popular enough for it to be a dip in business instead of falling off a cliff.
'People are like, ‘My kids won't eat their lunch if it's not in there,'” Sivan said.
Now that hummus will be available in more stores under a slightly different name.
Oasis Falafel is rebranding its grocery line to Oasis Street Food.
'Once in a while, we'd get messages from people saying, ‘What's falafel hummus?' because it said ‘Oasis Falafel Hummus,'” Sivan said.
'So it's not a good practice to have a food name on the package that isn't in the package. ...
The vast majority of products aren't falafels.”
Still, Sivan and Oasis co-owner Naftaly Stramer didn't want to 'abandon” the Oasis Falafel branding that is strong regionally.
At the same time, Oasis by itself was too vague, they thought.
'Oasis is like the most generic Middle Eastern restaurant name you can have besides Aladdin,” Sivan said.
Falafels traditionally have been considered street food, Sivan said, so that led to the Oasis Street Food name.
Selling its products to grocery stores historically has been about 50 percent of Oasis' business.
Now the expansion into more retail venues makes Oasis hummus available for almost 300 Hy-Vee locations across several states.
It comes after a successful 'mini, mini launch” in January, Sivan said, with stores in Hy-Vee's eastern region.
'It's gone really well,” Sivan said.
That doesn't necessarily mean it'll be in all those stores right away. Individual Hy-Vee stores choose which products it gets from the distribution center.
Sivan is expecting a limited rollout initially because stores are not doing free samples during the pandemic.
'The thing about our hummus is the flavor,” Sivan said.
Without the ability to sample, he said some stores are holding off on bringing in the new product.
Oasis' hummus also has a shorter shelf life because it doesn't have preservatives, making sampling an important part of selling the product.
Once it's safe to do so, Sivan plans on traveling across the Midwest to showcase his product at Hy-Vee stores. He would've already been doing that if it weren't for the pandemic.
'I'd be driving all over the Midwest and just setting up and doing demos,” Sivan said. 'But because of the crisis, that's just not happening.”
Oasis' hummus soon will enter Costco's Coralville store for the first time on a trial basis. It will be in a larger quantity than what a customer could buy at one of the other retail locations.
'We don't have a firm date yet because we're still waiting on the containers to be manufactured,” Sivan said.
If it sells well, it eventually could appear in the Davenport and West Des Moines Costco stores.
The grocery expansion has been possible because of an agreement with Kalona Creamery to use some of its manufacturing space to ramp up production.
Production capacity has increased at least tenfold, Sivan said.
'It's the same recipe, same process and same ingredients,” he explained.
Some of the equipment in the space, which is dedicated solely for Oasis, came from the restaurant.
Making all of the hummus for grocery stores at the restaurant was no longer sustainable.
'We couldn't cook more beans,” Sivan said. 'We were out of room, out of space and out of time.”
While Oasis' hummus gains traction in more stores, Sivan has his eyes on future grocery items.
'The problem for us is which one do we want to do?” Sivan said. 'There's so many great dishes and spice mixes and good dairy products that we could do. The sky's the limit.”
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