By Marina Mayer
Tortillas are not just for tacos and burritos anymore. They’re no longer just for TexMex or Mexican foods. They’re not even just for wraps and sandwiches.
When it comes to tortillas, it’s all about health, innovation and creating a new experience for consumers.
That’s the approach Mission Foods Co. is taking in the highly competitive tortilla industry. One of the nation’s largest manufacturers of corn and flour tortillas, the Irving, Texas-based company is breaking the mold by rolling out a flurry of new products to add quality, variety and great taste to the tortilla category.
It’s striving to exceed consumers’ expectations, not just meet them, says Alberto Gonzalez, vice president of marketing for Gruma Corp., parent company of Mission Foods, which produces a plethora of flour and corn tortillas, chips, strips, wraps and other products under the Mission and Guerrero brands.
“We’re constantly updating, improving and reinventing new ways for our products to keep up with the needs and desires of our consumers,” he explains. “Several new lines of flour tortillas introduced into the market have helped Mission Foods capture shifting consumer attitudes about health and nutrition and the way our products are used.”
One such introduction, Mission 96% fat-free “Heart Healthy” tortillas, comes in conventional flour and whole wheat varieties, contains added flaxseed to boost Omega-3 fatty acids and has been proven to promote healthy levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.
For the meal-savvy consumers, Gonzalez adds, Mission 10” Wraps make even the sophisticated dish easy to prepare. The wraps are made with herbs and seasonings, are easy to roll and fill and come in Garden Spinach Herb, Jalapeño Cheddar, Sundried Tomato Basil, Original, Multi-Grain and Zesty Garlic selections.
“[These] products have helped consumers view tortillas in a totally different light,” he says. “And [they] give them permission to use these products in new, healthier ways.”
Overall, better-for-you products have continued to gain momentum in the tortilla industry as reflected in the steady growth of the Mission Carb Balance and Multi-Grain Tortillas, Gonzalez notes. Mission Carb Balance Tortillas, he says, deliver a balanced protein-to-carb-to-fat ratio with only 5 g. carbs per tortilla. To complement its better-for-you line expansion, Mission Multi-Grain Tortillas, made with 100% whole grain, contain just as much fiber as a slice of whole wheat bread. They’re all part of a broader effort to search for new ways to bolster consumer demand and incorporate a little bit of health into their daily diet.
“In terms of trends, the industry is beginning to reach a new base of consumers that are entering the category due in part to the explosion of wraps and tortilla menu items,” Gonzalez explains.
In many ways, Mission Foods is trying to change the way consumers think about tortillas, even with its Guerrero brand, the company’s more traditional product line. The company has rolled out Guerrero Whole Wheat Triguenas Tortillas, which provide consumers with the option to make authentic Mexican dishes using whole wheat tortillas while benefiting from a great source of fiber and grains, Gonzalez says.
Available in an 8-in. soft taco size, these tortillas are ideal for any type of meal, side dish, appetizer or snack, he adds.
“Corn tortillas [are] the staple of traditional Mexican cuisine and center-of-the-plate fare for acculturated and non-acculturated Hispanic families,” he notes. “[They] are now branching out beyond ethnicities to enter U.S. households for their natural health benefits as low-fat, low-sodium, high-fiber alternatives to wheat/flour-based bread products.”
According to several studies, more than 90% of Americans indulge in a snack on any given day, thus creating a $90 billion macro-snack industry. As a result, Mission Foods expanded its Mission and Guerrero product lines to include items that cure the cravings, and spice up the brands, albeit in a more healthful manner.
In March, it expanded its zero trans fat line with the unleashing of Stone Ground Tortilla Strips, which provide an alternative to croutons in soups and salads, and Organic Stone Ground Tortilla Chips for consumers looking for an all-natural snack.
“Organics have grown at a rate of nearly 20% per year for the last seven years,” Gonzalez says. “And industry experts are forecasting continued growth.”For snackers with a sweet tooth, the company came out with Caramel Twists, a crunchy, caramel-flavored wheat snack. Mission Foods also offers Super Thin Tortilla Triangles, similar to the chips served at Mexican restaurants.
Stacking it Up
As the Hispanic population continues to grow in the United States and the popularity of Latin and Hispanic foods evolves, Gonzalez expects to continue seeing increasing sales.
Top-selling products for both the Mission and Guerrero brands include the 90-count pack of corn tortillas and the 10- and 20-count flour tortillas.
However, some products are more trendy in some regions of the country. For instance, flour tortillas and wraps tend to be the most popular with consumers in the Northeast and Southeast, but sales of corn tortillas are higher on the West Coast.
While Mission Foods is working to reach all avenues of tortilla distribution, it also is striving to penetrate new geographic areas. For example, the company recently ventured into the super-competitive Chicago market where it hadn’t had a presence in the past because it didn’t have a production facility nor distribution in that large Midwestern market.
“Because our products are made fresh, they must be delivered quickly,” Gonzalez says. “Therefore, we had to make sure we had the appropriate manufacturing and distribution channels in place.”
The Mission and Guerrero brands also plan to boost their presence in the Northeast, Midwest and Southeast where the company has expanded geographically over the years.
Despite Mission Foods’ achievements, the company has encountered its fair share of hurdles such as ever-rising wheat, corn and other commodity costs.
Gonzalez says that his company is not alone.
“Today’s economic conditions are a challenge to everyone,” he notes. “We are diligently exploring cost-cutting alternatives in the short- and long-term that will hopefully offset the need for ongoing price increases.”
As part of its ongoing efforts to bring the best quality of product and presentation to consumers, Mission Foods plans to explore new raw packaging materials and improve the packaging seal to maintain freshness.
Compromise is not a word the company uses.
“We’re the industry leader because of our unique tortilla making process,” Gonzalez says, “and our passion for innovating new products and our high standards for quality, variety and great taste.”For Mission Foods, it’s also not about me-too products. The company plans to grow by bringing something new to the party.