The popularity of Hispanic cuisine, interest in better-for-you foods and mealtime versatility are just some of the reasons why consumers and foodservice operators are buying more tortillas. Tortilla manufacturers, in turn, are upping the ante by introducing even more flavors and healthier ingredients.


When an American icon such as McDonald’s adds a product to its menu, it’s a sure bet that the launch is backed by significant market research and reflects current consumer trends. The Oak Brook, Ill.-based company’s 2013 rollout of Premium McWraps, for instance, seemed to address several trends, including consumers’ move away from sandwiches, a desire for healthier foods and a continued love of Hispanic foods.

And there’s no doubt that Americans love Hispanic foods. Sales of Hispanic foods and drinks were about $8 billion in the U.S. market in 2012, and are expected to reach $11 billion by 2017, according to an article in The Washington Times. With the proliferation of Mexican quick-service restaurants (QSRs) like Taco Bell, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Baja Fresh and others, consumers can enjoy creative versions of Mexican-style cuisine whenever and wherever they want.

Taco Bell’s new Grillers, for instance, encase an assortment of ingredients in a warm, flour tortilla for an easy-to-eat, on-the-go meal. Chipotle Mexican Grill, which says it sells “food with integrity,” offers gourmet burritos that consumers customize. Baja Fresh uses grilled tortillas to make its burritos, fajitas, quesadillas and other products. In addition, many QSRs now offer vegetarian fare, breakfast burritos or wraps and children’s meals.

No wonder the tortilla manufacturing industry “has seen strong growth in the last five years, making it the fastest-growing segment within the entire baking industry,” according to IBISWorld’s “Tortilla Production Market Research Report,” published in September 2013. The Los Angeles-based market research firm says tortillas generate $3 billion in revenue in the U.S.


Healthy options

Tortilla manufacturers aren’t just staying busy, providing foodservice customers with tortillas, they’re also doing the same for their retail customers, as more consumers discover how versatile and better-for-you tortillas can be and ask for more varieties and flavors.

As a result, many grocers are now stocking multigrain and whole-grain tortillas, as well as traditional corn and flour versions. Gluten-free, low-carb, low-fat, low-calorie, yeast-free, organic and other tortilla variations are enabling consumers to address dietary restrictions without sacrificing flavor or feeling unsatisfied. Flavored tortillas—cheddar, spinach, green onion and more—are helping home cooks become more adventuresome in the kitchen when making breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack.

“While there are numerous trends hitting the marketplace, the biggest trends driving the development of our tortilla products are an interest in whole grains, clean ingredient labels without any chemicals and great taste,” says Denise Day, senior marketing manager at Rudi’s Organic Bakery, Boulder, Colo., which makes tortillas under its Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery and Rudi’s Organic Bakery brands. Both are available in retail locations across the U.S.

Launched in late 2012, Rudi’s Gluten-Free Tortillas are made with whole-grain flours, have 5 g. of fiber per serving and contain no genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The tortillas have a soft, pliable texture, making them suitable for veggie wraps, spicy tacos, tortilla pizzas and more. They also come in three flavors: Plain; Spinach; and Fiesta.

“Rudi’s Gluten-Free has always focused on providing high-quality, gluten-free products for people with celiac disease and for those with a gluten intolerance,” says Day. “In general, the gluten-free industry has seen high growth, with more consumers purchasing gluten-free products, whether they need to for dietary reasons or not, because it’s easier to prepare the same meal for the whole family.”

Rudi’s Organic Tortillas allow consumers to add the power of spelt, grains or flaxseeds to a snack or as part of a meal. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic, the tortillas are made with ingredients like organic whole-wheat flour, organic palm fruit oil and organic honey.

“Both brands have stayed focused on retail customers because there is room to grow in-store due to increasing consumer demand for organic and gluten-free products,” says Day. “In fact, according to Natural Food Merchandiser Market Overview research, sales of natural and organic products soared to nearly $100 billion in the U.S. in 2012, and those numbers continue to rise. The gluten-free industry also continues to grow, reaching sales of $10.5 billion in 2013, according to Mintel. Gluten-free sales are expected to continue growing, and Mintel estimates the category will produce more than $15 billion in annual sales in 2016.”


A nutritious substitute

Julie Nargang, vice president of marketing/innovation, Azteca Foods Inc., agrees that consumers are looking for healthier food options. “Tortillas are a natural substitute for bread,” she explains. “Due to this, tortilla consumption has surpassed some bread items. We have addressed these trends with our Ultragrain Tortillas, made with Ultragrain Flour licensed from ConAgra Mills.

Ultragrain flour gives you the same great white flour tortilla taste and texture with whole-grain nutrition. In June, we will be rolling out an entire platform geared toward healthier options.”

Currently, Chicago-based company sells salad shells, soft, flour tortillas, corn tortillas and Ultragrain tortillas under its Azteca brand. Under its Buena Vida brand, the company sells organic, fat-free, whole-grain and whole-wheat, low-carb tortillas.

The company uses recyclable packaging for its products, says Nargang, adding that “environmental causes go beyond packaging at Azteca. Internally, 95% of our production food and packaging waste is either recycled or reused.”

Most of Azteca Foods’ sales are retail. However, Nargang says its foodservice growth has been “impressive. The trend to use tortillas as a carrier for all different types of ingredients has caused an explosion in menu items.”

TortillaLand, a Tyson Foods Inc. brand, answers the call with all of its products, says Charlene M. Richardson, TortillaLand marketing, Tyson Foods, Springdale, Ark., which purchased the assets of San Diego-based Circle Foods LLC, maker of TortillaLand Tortillas, last June. “TortillaLand Uncooked Flour Tortillas are made with a clean label—five fresh ingredients to create an authentic homemade taste,” she explains. “[They] are gluten-free, offering an even healthier authentic choice.”

The company recently added TortillaLand Uncooked Cheesy Tortillas to its lineup. The new product combines real cheddar cheese and authentic tortillas and cooks in 60 seconds, enabling consumers to easily create flavorful meals, snacks and even desserts anytime of the day at home. Portable packages with easy-to-open zip seals help keep the tortillas, which must be refrigerated, fresh.

“TortillaLand Tortillas are found exclusively in the refrigerated section at retail,” says Richardson. “[They] command more than a 10% share of the refrigerated tortilla segment and continue to grow at double-digit rates.”


Getting the word out

Many consumers are more proactive today about learning about the foods they buy for their families—reading labels, checking websites and asking questions on social media sites. But given that American manufacturers launch thousands of new products (food and nonfood) annually, companies must be more proactive to encourage consumers to notice their brands.

“We target our consumers in a variety of ways,” says Day. “Rudi’s connects with interested consumers on social media by using Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to engage on a more personal level. For Rudi’s, the mission is more than just providing delicious, healthy products—it’s also about educating consumers on why it’s important to pay attention to the ingredients in their bread, as well as cultivate a healthy lifestyle for the whole family. For the brand to connect with customers and reach them on a more personal level, it’s important [for us] to develop strategic online campaigns that resonate with personal interests and passions of the Rudi’s customer, who is well-educated and looking for nutritious and delicious foods for her family.”

This is the second year the company  hosted the Rudi’s Gluten-Free Happy Camper Summer Camp Scholarship contest, where it uses Facebook as a platform where kids and their parents can share what makes them special in order to win a scholarship to a gluten-free summer camp. “The goal is to give kids with gluten-intolerances or celiac disease the opportunity to attend summer camp and explore without worrying about what they’re eating, and moms can send their kids off for a fun week knowing they’re are in a safe, gluten-free environment,” Day explains. “This is just one example of how the brand is giving back to communities and thanking them for being a part of the business.”

Richardson says TortillaLand is prominent in integrated media, focusing on involving consumers as much as possible through social media, in-store events, the TortillaLand website and blog, and online promotions. “Consumer involvement is most effective,” she notes. “Once consumers try TortillaLand Uncooked Tortillas, they are likely to become repeat buyers.”

Nargang says Azteca has spent the past six months “really getting to know our consumer. With this, we will be launching an integrated campaign [in June] to drive the consumer specifically to the refrigerated tortilla category.”


Tortillas for tomorrow

Even though demand for tortillas continues to be strong, thanks to Americans’ love of Hispanic food and consumers’ interest in healthier foods, tortilla manufacturers know they can’t just sit back and enjoy the ride. “Right now, one of the challenges in the tortilla industry is continuing to improve flavor options, while also providing a high-quality, clean ingredient label and meeting consumer dietary restrictions,” affirms Day. “To meet this challenge, both Rudi’s Organic and Rudi’s Gluten-Free have several different varieties of tortillas to meet the needs of many types of consumers, whether they are looking to make a breakfast item or dinner meal, and whether they’ll be creating Italian or Mexican recipes.”

Day adds that there’s also increasing demand for products that offer additional health benefits, like added fiber or Omega 3s. “It’s important to consider added benefits when developing new products,” he says. “After research and development, Rudi’s Organic and Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery found it necessary to add these nutritional benefits and is proud to offer customers [products with fiber and Omega 3s].”

Tortilla manufacturers and retailers also may need to continue positioning their products to compete with other baked goods on the market, such as flatbread, bread, rolls, sandwich thins and tomorrow’s “next big thing.”

“In regard to competing against different types of products, tortillas compete by offering a different solution for mealtime,” Day says. “Rudi’s positions tortillas as a healthy option to making unique recipes for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Tortillas offer versatility. You can make a delicious breakfast burrito to start the day, or you can throw together an easy turkey wrap for a midafternoon snack. Plus, tortilla wraps offer an easy on-the-go meal option, which is very important to customers who don’t have a lot of time to prepare meals for their families.”

Richardson also points out the versatility of tortillas, noting that they are able to become part of any kind of meal—breakfast, lunch, dinner or even dessert.

“We believe the tortilla segment will continue to see strong growth in the coming years,” Day reflects. “Consumers continue to seek products that deliver great taste and enhanced nutritional profile, and they can find these benefits within Rudi’s Organic Bakery [tortilla] products.”