Haverhill company spreads Mediterranean food across coasts

Christopher Gaudette at Cedar’s Haverhill plant.Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Abe Hanna and his wife, Layla, both natives of Beirut, are passionate about Mediterranean food. In the mid-1980s — keenly aware of its absence in local markets — Layla made hommus and taboule salad in her home kitchen and Abe drove the products to market. Cedar’s Mediterranean Foods
in Lawrence — named for the national tree of Lebanon — was off and running. In the 1990s, management of the company was turned over to their son, Charlie Hanna. Today, Cedar’s distributes its growing roster of products nationwide. Abe, 79, and Layla, 76, live in Salem. N.H.

We talked with Cedar’s chief financial officer, Chris Gaudette.

Q: When did you expand to Ward Hill in Haverhill?

A: May 2005. Now, we have 400-plus employees.

Q: Is it still a family business?

A: Yes, it is family, privately owned and currently controlled by Charlie Hanna, president and chief executive, and his childhood friend Steve Tsakirellis, who is vice president.

Q: How have products changed?

A: Hommus is our core competence. But we also make salads with everything from edamame to chickpea to taboule. And we make salsa, dips, and wraps.

Q: What’s most popular?

A: The traditional hommus, with garlic and roasted red pepper rounding out the top three. We make many flavors, some with toppings now. Hot items are the artichoke-spinach hommus, as well as the alternative white and black bean dips. Currently, our seasonal pumpkin hommus is a hit.

Q: Is consumption of Mediterranean foods growing?

A: Two years ago, about 13 percent of US households had hommus in their refrigerators. Today, it’s 24 percent. There’s been a lot of press about the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet the past few years.

Q: What sets your company apart?

A: All our products are 100 percent natural, with no preservatives. In addition, we offer a revamped line of organic products in which all the raw material is USDA organic.

Q: What’s the future?

A: We had 30 to 35 percent growth this year. We plan to increase our space from 88,000 square feet to 174,000 square feet in Ward Hill in the next year, and most likely to 274,000 by the end of 2018, if not sooner.

Wendy Killeen can be reached at wdkilleen@gmail.com

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