This year's TIA Convention & Trade Exposition was jam-packed with new developments in tortillas and flatbreads. 

Lauren R. Hartman, Editor-in-Chief

The bustling 22nd annual TIA Convention and Trade Exposition, held Sept. 12-13 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, featured an upgraded venue, an expanded exhibitor list and exhibit space that quickly sold out. The dynamic and well-attended event provided more new equipment, components, ingredients, packaging and finished products than ever, as well as lots of buzz about the changing trends from various tortilla and flatbread producers.

Sponsored by Arlington, Va.-based Tortilla Industry Association (TIA), the most important tortilla industry event of the year set a new record for the 22 years it has taken place. Delegate attendance was more than 675, which broke a previous record of 620 in 2008, and many of the 97 exhibitors had a larger booth than before.

The convention also gave attendees many networking opportunities and sponsored conference sessions as well as a Hall of Fame award presentation. Hall of Fame winners include Dorothy Cruz, Mi-Rancho Tortillas; Irwin Steinberg, founder of TIA (1990); and Frank and George Puentes of Don Pancho Authentic Mexican Foods, Inc.

An intriguing conference program highlighted Monday and Tuesday morning, as speakers discussed improving tortilla production, boosting tortilla freshness with oxygen adsorbers in packaging and maintaining and creating new business relationships and businesses without forgetting traditions and heritage. Other sessions focused on the effect of enzymes on tortillas and new enzyme products, keys to successful product innovation, new frameworks for nutrition and a look at new bakery and tortilla products made from masa and flour.

“Innovation is a key word for us,” says Ivan Ahumada, national retail sales manager at Minsa Corp., Muleshow, Texas, which presented a discussion about new products under the Soulmaize umbrella. “Customers want things like fiber, low-fat, low calories, more protein-enriched products, allergen-free, trans-fat-free and low-cholesterol products. They’re interested in more healthy and wellness ingredients and gluten-free, lower-sodium, convenient alternatives.” With expertise in corn products in four segments-tortillas, snacks, bakery and extruded snacks-Minsa introduced various bakery products a year ago, such as donut, pancake and churro pre-mixes.

Motivational speaker Consuelo Kickbusch, president of Educational Services Inc., Cottonwood, Ariz., spoke about going forward without forgetting the past.

“Carrying on the legacy is critical but we need to see tortillas in a different way,” she says. “We grew up with tortillas-they’re everywhere now. Our food staple is all over the world now. But we still need to bring the values of yesterday to today. As we modernize and add more machinery to our production facilities, we still shouldn’t forget the reason we’re in this [business] and on this journey.”

John Fannon, vice president technical services at Allied Blending & Ingredients, St. Louis, Mo., explained the significance of various enzymes in tortilla applications.

“They can be used to alter starch and protein properties and help extend shelf life,” he stressed. “Certain bacterial amylase from fungal sources can be used in dough conditioning to prevent staling in storage and maintain a soft crumb. Some enzymes can act as emulsifiers while others act on certain types of fibers in flour and gluten development. When tortillas are cooked, starch is dispersed in water and forms a soft, pliable gel. Amylase takes those starch molecules and breaks them into pieces so to control and slow degradation.”

Meanwhile, Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, founder of Hispanic Foods Communications, discussed new concepts for Latino nutrition.

“There are 50.5 million Hispanics in the United States, based on the 2010 U.S. Census, and they rank as the second largest group here outside of Mexico. Emerging Latinos are younger, live longer, have higher birth rates and worry about their health, though there is a broad definition of health that includes traditions, traditional healing, a strong religious component and mainstream medicine,” she says. “The Hispanic diet is influenced by core elements of the country of origin. And mothers are looking for healthier options and are reading package labels in efforts of finding lower fat and sodium. But also with Hispanics, the key health issues are obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, so there’s still a lot of education needed on healthy options. Tortilla companies also really need to look at fortifying tortilla products with folic acid, a vital way of preventing certain birth defects.”   

Conferences aside, the exhibits were filled with new tortilla bagging equipment and shrink wrappers, form/fill/seal systems, weighers, tortilla presses, counters, cutters, dividers, stackers, conveyors, dough processors and more, as well as flexible and rigid packaging and containers, gums, ingredients, milling needs, flours-the list goes on. With an event jam-packed with ideas and opportunities rolled up into just a few days, visitors certainly got their money’s worth.

For more information about the 2012 TIA Convention & Trade Exposition, which will take place Sept. 11-12, 2012 at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, go to