food and beverage industry

How this young stroke survivor started her own hummus biz

Steph Arnaldo
How this young stroke survivor started her own hummus biz
After getting a stroke at 28, this full-time mom took her health (and her business) into her own hands, and is now making authentic hummus in over 20 flavors!

MANILA, Philippines – The very last thing Kristine Fernandes expected when she turned 28 years old was a stroke.

Like many of us around the same age, Kristine was a self-proclaimed workaholic – always on the go, never idle. As the General Manager of Operations of a BPO then, Kristine found herself just eating “to just fuel myself with energy to keep me going, without giving importance to any nutrients necessary for a long-term healthy me,” she told Rappler. She completely neglected any nutritional value of food, and worked long nights, adding stress to her already ailing health.

And then on September 27, 2012, she got a stroke. Kristine suddenly couldn’t walk for two months, with the left side of her brain gravely affected.

“When I fell ill, the hardest part was to just lie in bed, helpless, for the first two months, dependent on the caretakers for everything,” she said. “It was a wake-up call for me to consciously give importance to my food choices, together with the nutritional value that they bring along.”

As a stroke survivor, Kristine knew she could no longer go back to her old ways – both in health and in work. She decided to consciously start making the right choices for herself – in mind, body, and soul – which she admitted was “not an easy transition,” but she made it happen.

How? She found hummus.

How hummus heals

The idea for making homemade hummus was already planted as early as 2015, when Kristine first tasted the popular Middle Eastern savory dip of blended chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon, juice, and garlic in India and the Middle East, no less. She described it as “love at first bite” (100% agree), and “instantly fell in love with the taste and texture.”

“When I got back to Manila, I kept looking for the authentic taste of hummus made with extra virgin olive oil. I tried different brands that were available locally but none of them hit the spot,” she said. “Maybe I can try making it one day?” she casually thought.

Luckily, Kristine was no stranger to the food and beverage industry – her family has owned a restaurant for the last five decades. As a child, Kristine would help out as much as she could in the family business, and as a young adult, she obtained certifications in Operations and Catering. Sadly, however, her father passed away in August 2020, and the family had to let go of the restaurant.

“But the learnings have remained with me,” Kristine said.

After getting married to an Indian national in 2015, Kristine’s interest in Arabic and Indian cuisines grew even more. “During my travels to India and other Middle Eastern countries, I explored how different spices would blend and create a totally different flavor when combined in various proportions,” she said.

“And it being rated as one of healthiest foods in the world was a bonus!”

So Kristine decided to stretch her food business chops, while satiating her cravings and her need for healthier choices. She specifically picked hummus as her first entrepreneurial venture because she couldn’t find a “go-to food” that didn’t have loads of sugar, flour, or was not deep-fried or laden with fat and ultra-processed shortening. She decided to launch SAFA HUMMUS to fill this gap.

SAFA HUMMUS is the name of her delivery-only baby biz, which launched in the pandemic mid-2020 for online customers and neighbors within her community. Coming from the word “safa,” which means “pure” in the Arabic language, Kristine made this her business’ mission – pure quality, hygienic, and natural ingredients, without any artificial flavorings or preservatives. Everything is made fresh daily.

“We could have made any other plant-based food, but this being so flavorful and considered as a superfood made us choose hummus,” Kristine said. “We also wanted something that is fun, with a variety of flavors to break the monotony.”

As of July 2022, SAFA has over 20 flavors of hummus, each one paired best with crackers, pita, tortilla chips, and even veggies, meat, or pasta. Its versatility makes it easy for SAFA’s customers to enjoy hummus in different ways, but still with the same authentic taste. Personally, I am a fan! It’s one of the best hummus I’ve tasted, and whenever a craving hits, SAFA Hummus is my regular go-to. That’s hummus I love it!

Starting slow, staying steady

Kristine made sure to take it slow when she launched SAFA HUMMUS, considering she was a full-time mom to a toddler born in 2017. She made sure to keep her family-centered, health-centric mission clear – “to give kababayans, working parents, people who are always on the go, and even kids the options to choose healthier and real food alternatives that can be enjoyed any time of the day or night.”

Her product is mainly made from garbanzo beans, sesame paste (which is homemade with Extra Virgin Olive Oil), and imported premium spices from across the globe. She uses local and imported ingredients for certain flavors – for the Vegan Fudge Hummus selection, it’s imported premium cacao, California raisins, and chocolate chips. Other ingredients are sourced from India, Spain, Italy, Middle East, and even Japan for the SAFA Wasabi Hummus.

How does a day in the life of SAFA HUMMUS’ home kitchen look like? Kristine said that she makes hummus the traditional way, like it’s done in the Middle East. Legumes are soaked for long hours, blended in food processors, packed, and then sealed. Fresh batches are made every week.

“The plastic hummus containers are thoroughly washed and dried. Since we don’t use artificial preservatives, they are refrigerated and ready for dispatch anytime,” she added. When they first started, delivery was only done from Fridays to Sundays. Now, due to increased demand, shipping is done almost daily, until stocks last. A two-day lead time is required for bulk orders.

In 2020, SAFA Hummus only started with six flavors: Classic White (the original); Royal Black (black sesame paste); Gusto Pesto (pesto from Italy); Tandoori (Indian-Middle Eastern spices); Pomodoro (sun-dried tomatoes from Italy); and the spicy Jalapeño (imported peppers).

As one of SAFA’s earliest customers, I immediately ordered all six to try, and each one didn’t disappoint. The flavors may have sounded strange for hummus, but they all worked, depending on your tastebuds – the Pomodoro became a fast favorite as a fan of tangy, tomato-based sauces, and the Gusto Pesto tasted just like the creamy, herby pasta in hummus form.

Two years later, SAFA now has 16 savory flavors and four sweet vegan fudge variants. “Each one has its own story, but the common inspiration was to take hummus to the ‘next level’ and give a variety to our patrons,” Kristine said. And indeed SAFA does! It’s never boring to order from the brand.

“We looked at the Pinoy palate and got ideas on blending these flavors with the humble hummus. We are the only brand today in the country that has this wide range of hummus flavors, and yes, some are exotic like our wasabi, peanut, cajun, beetroot, mint, and curry flavors,” Kristine said, proving that you can be both creative yet loyal to a native delicacy – even Middle Eastern customers in the Philippines rave about how it tastes just like home, too.

“Our customers are just as diverse as our flavors and each flavor has its own fan following.”

Challenges aside, SAFA is here to stay

Just like many other pandemic-born online businesses, SAFA Hummus had its fair share of start-up struggles – finding the right suppliers, inventory management, pricing, marketing, branding, shipping, and logistics. Her husband would help her on weekends after his full-time job, trying different spice combos for several months until they perfected their flavors.

“Our key roadblocks were mostly due to the pandemic, like unvailability of some supplies. To mitigate this problem, we tracked our monthly consumption rate and were able to forecast, to a significant accuracy level, when to replenish the key supplies. This has helped in meeting the demand of our patrons ever since,” Kristine explained. And now, SAFA has become her full-time job.

“The best thing about pursuing our mission is the ‘feel good’ factor that we are putting a healthy, real food brand out in your hands that are addictively delectable! It’s fun. My toddler loves SAFA HUMMUS and we have many more mommies that send us pics, videos, and testimonials of their kids enjoying them,” she said, which makes everything worth it.

“We are excited about the future of SAFA and we plan to launch some more awesome products under the SAFA brand. We are also working on a franchising strategy. SAFA is a trademarked brand and we believe in the brand and its mission,” she added.

And it’s a mission that isn’t hard to get behind; Kristine’s story is a testament to how good can come out of bad. A scary health experience turned into a blessing in disguise for Kristine, her family, and for the many loyal customers of SAFA (me included)!

“Healthy eating can also be fun and flavorful. We will continuously evolve with more yummy food options that are good for you in the years to come,” she said. – Rappler.com

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Steph Arnaldo

If she’s not writing about food, she’s probably thinking about it. From advertising copywriter to freelance feature writer, Steph Arnaldo finally turned her part-time passion into a full-time career. She’s written about food, lifestyle, and wellness for Rappler since 2018.