Tortillas continue to find favor from all angles, whether corn or wheat, crispy or soft, traditional or better-for-you. Tortilla chips likewise run the gamut, including tried-and-true standards, cantina-style, scoops and even types studded with differentiating ingredients like seeds, all at home with any number of dips—and many of the newer, hybrid styles stand quite nicely unadorned.
That’s the beauty of a great tortilla. At its best, it remains a quintessential canvas awaiting inspiration, from street tacos al pastor to Caesar sandwich wraps and even far-flung ideas like Taco Bell’s latest fourth-meal gambit, the Quesalupa. Live más.
The U.S. market has developed nearly insatiable interest in tortillas and tortilla chips across both retail and foodservice. While the straightforward staple known to the ancient Mayans still finds widespread favor, manufacturers and operators have fashioned the deceptively simple tortilla and tortilla chip into diverse catalysts to drive interest and market growth. It certainly helps that clean-label and gluten-free easily find a home in the land of tortillas.
Recent estimates from IRI, Chicago, put U.S. tortilla sales at $4 billion and change—and growing. Tortilla chips add another $5 billion to the mix. That’s a combined industry approaching $10 million, and that’s just retail. Factor in foodservice, and the numbers quickly jump. Long an anchor of fast-casual, Chipotle saw revenue of $4.1 billion in 2015. And over in QSR, Taco Bell hit a mighty $8.2 billion last year. Of course, both chains make strong use of tortillas and tortilla chips.
And today, a chip often isn’t just a chip. Salty snacks like tortilla chips have seen strong diversification. A fascinating dynamic of these snacks today is the balanced mix of traditional and better-for-you products driving sales growth at retail.
One example of better-for-you tortilla chips building steam is Way Better Snacks (see “Sprouting better snacks” on p. 14 for our profile of this snack producer). By combining bold—yet simple—flavor profiles with ingredients like sprouted flax, chia, quinoa, broccoli, kale and radish seeds, as well as sprouted brown rice and black beans, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and more, this better-for-you, clean-label producer is starting to turn heads. In 2014, Live Better Brands, the company behind the brand, made a strong move toward vertical integration via acquisition of its sprouted-ingredients supplier. Then in 2015, private-equity firm Alliance Consumer Growth invested in the company, catalyzing notable national momentum.
Of course, the tortilla chip segment has its share of iconic, tried-and-true brands. Doritos and Tostitos continue dominance. PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay business owns nearly 75 percent dollar share of tortilla chips, with Doritos at $2 billion, Tostitos at $646 million and Tostitos Scoops adding another $464 million. And Frito-Lay sees the merits of better-for-you. Its clean-label, organic, Non-GMO Project Verified offering, Simply Tostitos, saw $23 million in sales last year.
And then there’s fresh—another key trend driving growth across all of food today. In the back of the house at restaurants, at farmers’ markets and even in select grocery store delis—particularly in areas with strong Latin American populations and engaged food culture—more people have joined long-savvy Latin Americans in their appreciation of warm, made-to-order, ever-so-slightly charred tortillas, the associated aromatic intrigue easily inspiring visions of authentic Oaxacan pit barbacoa…
Tortillas have even met their technological match at home. The first machine designed to take tortillas from Old World to New—dubbed by some as the “Keurig for tortillas”—is poised to hit the market by 2017 courtesy of a Swiss upstart. The machine is dubbed Flatev, and Fred Bould—the sharp designer behind Nest and GoPro—is involved. A dough pod goes in, and a hot, fresh-griddled tortilla comes out… This buzz will only serve to help further diversify the market, opening doors to more fresh innovations across the board.
Ours has become a tortilla nation. Welcome it with open arms.