Children of Corn
By Deborah Cassell
For China, it’s rice. For Ireland, it’s potatoes. For America, it’s corn that’s become the commodity of choice for everything from fuel to food, including the growing tortilla chip category.
We have long been a nation dependent on corn — from Native American use of fresh corn on the cob as a diet staple to modern-day demands to use it for ethanol as fuel — making it a hot commodity in more than one market. As veritable “children of corn,” we still turn to this multipurpose golden kernel for all types of food.
Take, for example, tortilla chips. Heavily influenced by the popularity of Mexican food and today’s growing Hispanic community, this crunchy snack is a standard in modern American homes. Recent introductions — many of which are made from organic ingredients — come in innovative flavors, fortifications and forms. Furthermore, increased interest in whole grains is driving tortilla chips to the top of the food chain, so to speak.
|THE TOP 10|
(Latest 52 Weeks Ending Dec. 2, 2007)
|Dollar Sales %
Change vs. Previous Year
|Dollar Share||Dollar Share Change
vs. Previous Year
|10||On the Border||$19.0||+20.8||0.9||+0.1|
|Total, including brands not shown||$2,091.8||+5.2||100.0|
|Source: Information Resources, Inc.|
Total U.S — Supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandise outlets (excluding Wal-Mart)
“Consumers are looking for ‘better-for-you’ snack foods that also deliver nutritional benefits,” says Elaine Giordano, associate brand manager for The Hain Celestial Group, Inc., Melville, N.Y.
To that end, tortilla chip producers are touting the benefits of their whole grain products and fortifying them with even more healthful additives.
“Because of the potential for mixing dry ingredients into tortilla bases, tortillas can be a good delivery base for functional benefits like Omega-3s, vitamin fortifications or other functional additives,” notes Paul Smith, director of marketing and product management for Shearer’s Foods, Inc., Brewster, Ohio.
Joe Papiri, vice president of sales and marketing for Snak King, City of Industry, Calif., adds that he is seeing continued growth in the tortilla chip category, “especially when coupled with other attributes such as reduced fat or sodium.”
Regardless of the profile, tortilla chip sales are soaring. According to Information Resources, Inc. of Chicago, the category earned $2,091.8 million for the latest 52 weeks ending Dec. 2, 2007. That’s a whole lotta corn, kids.
The Grain Game
After the Food and Drug Administration issued new dietary guidelines in 2005 asking Americans to increase their intake of whole grains to 3 oz. or more per day, consumers began seeking out products that would meet the recommendation ... and still taste good.
Although some nutritionists contend that corn isn’t a whole grain, the majority see it as a valuable source.
“We’ve found that there has been a positive demand for grains [or] whole grains in the market not only as a health initiative, but also as a flavor profile,” says Laura Unger, marketing communications coordinator for Bachman, Reading, Pa. The company’s new gluten- and trans fat-free Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips are made from 100% whole grain kernels of corn and contain 21 g. of whole grain per serving.
“The corn is soaked for house and then ground with lava millstones until it reaches the right consistency,” Unger says. “This process yields a tastier, crispier tortilla chip.”
Next up for Bachman: a multigrain variety.
Multigrain chips also are the bill of fare for Hain-Celestial’s Garden of Eatin’ brand. The product is available in Sea Salt and Everything varieties, contains flaxseed, and is made with organic corn and 7 organic grains. A single serving delivers 2 g. of whole grain.
Although whole grains and multigrain products will continue to grow in importance, wheat allergies may prohibit some consumers from being able to enjoy traditional corn-based chips, which is why Shearer’s new multigrain chip also is wheat-free.
“We at Shearer’s feel that we’ve created a fantastic, great-tasting multigrain tortilla chip without using a common multigrain food ingredient that can be problematic for some consumers,” Smith says. “Wheat is a significant allergen, and our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility is wheat allergen-free.”
Shearer’s multigrain chip, as well as its new Black Bean and Salsa Whole Grain with added fiber (3 g. per serving), address another consumer concern: fats and oils. Both chips are made with 100% sunflower oil, “a 0 g. trans fat oil that is low in saturated fat,” Smith says.
“Typically, we use corn oil for a true, authentic corn taste,” he explains. “However, given the unique flavor profile of the other ingredients used in these bases, we found sunflower oil tasted the best and achieved our desired results.”
Speaking of fats and oils, whole grains aren’t the only benefit to today’s more healthful tortilla chips. Baked and organic products, as well as those fortified with Omega-3s, are increasingly common in snack aisles everywhere.
As Unger notes, “Our products reflect consumer demand for cleaner panels and the use of basic, natural ingredients that lend to a healthier offering.”
One brand updating its profile is Garden of Eatin’, which offers a new baked line of chips made with yellow corn, blue corn and flaxseed, and seasoned with sea salt. The products contain 50% less fat than regular chips and offer 300 mg. of Omega-3 per serving.
Although it is debatable whether organic products are more healthful, this category has become more mainstream, as well. Many snack producers are turning to organic offerings as a means of further enticing the consumer to draw a distinction between their chips and the competition’s.
For instance, the On the Border brand from Truco Enterprises, Dallas, Texas, recently introduced an organic line of corn, blue corn, multigrain and whole grain tortilla chips.
Meanwhile, Snak King will launch its El Sabroso Organic Tortilla Chip line in the next couple of months, Papiri says.
When it comes to tortilla chips, it’s not all about health. Flavor still drives the category, as evidenced by new varieties on the market.
“In addition to demand for whole grains, consumers are now looking for unique flavor experiences,” Unger explains.
Garden of Eatin’s new line features such seasoned flavors as Key Lime Jalapeño, Three Pepper, Focaccia and Maui Onion — developed by chef especially for the brand. The chips are made with organic corn and come in colors that correspond to the different varieties. For example, the Three Pepper chip is on blue corn.
“Our Bold Flavor Tortilla Chips will wow you with their great taste and bold flavor,” Giordano says.
The Guiltless Gourmet brand from R.A.B. Food Group, Secaucus, N.J., also features flavorful tortilla chips that are baked, not fried and contain just 120 calories and 3 g. or less of fat (no trans) per serving. Consumers can choose from nine varieties: Yellow Corn, Mucho Nacho, Unsalted Yellow Corn, Blue Corn, Chili Lime, Spicy Black Bean, Chipotle, Chili Verde and Smoked Cheddar — its newest flavor.
Meanwhile, Snak King has some new flavored chips on the horizon, according to Papiri.
“We are exploring some very spicy hot seasonings to expand our growing vend and convenience channels,” he says.
Traditional tortilla chips made from whole kernel corn and in various sizes and shapes remain a leader in this growing category.
For consumers who can’t get enough of their favorite Mexican restaurant chain’s chips and salsa, brands such as On the Border offer a take-home taste. New products include premium rounds and Cantina Thins (see New Products in this issue), the latter of which are made from whole kernel corn that’s cooked, stone-ground and pressed.
However, red, white and blue chips are adding a little color to the snack aisle.
For example, Madhouse Munchies, Colchester, Vt., last year introduced its all-natural, stone-ground white and blue corn tortilla chips. The premium quarter-cut chips are saturated- and trans fat-free, and contain just 110 g. of sodium per serving.
Regardless of flavor, fortification or form, “the key is to always product a consistently great-tasting, high-quality tortilla chip,” Smith says.
As long as snack producers follow suit, the ever-evolving tortilla chip will remain an all-American selection in our corn-centric culture. SF&WB
I Dip, You Dip, We Dip
Although tortilla chips typically are a corn-based product, the average American prefers flour tortillas over corn wraps. Enter Tostitos flour tortilla chips. According to Plano, Texas-based snack producer Frito-Lay, the new chips — launched in 2007 — are ideal for dipping in tomato-based dips and salsas, as well as in creamier dairy-based dips, hence its decision to also introduce two new Tostitos brand dips: Creamy Spinach and Creamy Southwest Ranch.
El Matador Goes Garden Fresh
Garden Fresh Gourmet of Ferndale, Mich., recently acquired Grand Rapids, Mich.-based El Matador Tortilla Chip Co. As such, Garden Fresh Gourmet will take over the company’s 60,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility, dramatically increasing production of all its popular tortilla chips product lines, which are sold nationwide. Garden Fresh Gourmet will retain El Matador’s 17 employees and hire additional staff, as well.
Founded by Miguel and Isabel Navarro in 1976, El Matador is a highly recognized brand in western Michigan, notes Dave Zilko, vice chairman of Garden Fresh Gourmet.
“We approached El Matador about adding their fine brand to the Garden Fresh Gourmet Product line,” Zilko said in a statement. “The timing was right for both companies, and we are delighted with this acquisition.”