No longer relegated to taco night, tortillas are playing a major role in Americans’ meal plans—both at home and when dining out. Tortillas today are still a staple for authentic Latin American foods, but also a bread alternative for sandwiches, a carrier for snacks and so much more.


State of the Industry: Bakery Report
Overview | Bread | Tortillas | Sweet Goods | Snack Cakes | Pizza | Desserts | Cookies | Buns & Rolls | Bars | Breakfast Products

Market data

According to data from IRI, Chicago for the 52 weeks ending March 24, 2019, hard and soft tortilla products saw growth of 3.8 percent to $2.6 billion. Segment leader Mission Foods saw another year of growth, up 6.1 percent to $834.1 million. Its core Mission brand grew 2.4 percent to $686.7 million, and its better-for-you Mission Carb Balance brand saw another year of strong growth, up 30.8 percent to $122.7 million. Mission Organics made its debut in our 2018 State of the Industry data, and for 2019, the brand grew 58.2 percent to $18.5 million.

Olé Mexican Foods—which overall grew 11.6 percent to $279.6 million—likewise saw growth across both its traditional and better-for-you lines. The La Banderita brand grew 7.6 percent to $195.9 million, while its Olé Xtreme Wellness brand had another banner year, up 28.5 percent to $47.8 million.

Refrigerated tortillas saw a relatively flat year, down 0.5 percent to $95.8 million. Segment leader Circle Foods continued to grow, up 11.2 percent to $33.9 million. San Diego Tortilla gained some traction this year, up 18.1 percent with its De San Diego brand, garnering $2.2 million in sales. Siete Family Foods made its way into the top 10 companies in the segment for 2019, with growth of 238.5 percent to $1.5 million for its grain-free Siete tortillas made with cassava, almond, chickpea and other grain alternatives. Cacique USA also saw another year of growth for its Cacique Sopes De La Casa, up 18.4 percent to $1.5 million in sales.


Looking back

One top reason for the continued growth of the tortilla category in the U.S. is the population growth among Hispanic consumers and their subsequent buying power, says Anita Srivastava, senior product development manager of bakery applications, Kemin Food Technologies, Des Moines, IA. To appeal to these consumers—in addition to non-Hispanic demographics—there are more tortilla options available on the market to drive sales, from flour to corn tortillas, traditional and better-for-you—plus flavor-forward options.

“Tortillas are becoming more of a staple in daily meal planning in U.S. homes due to their ease of preparation and convenience, low cost, and range of flavor options,” she says.

Tortillas are also appealing to consumers because of their perceived health benefits. “Tortillas and wraps continue to see growth as consumers grow increasingly health conscious and seek lighter, healthier substitutions for bread,” explains Shannon Cushen, director of marketing for Fuchs North America, Hampstead, MD.

Olé Mexican Foods added a Sprouted Whole Grains product to its Xtreme Wellness line during 2018, further diversifying its better-for-you options. The tortillas include four sprouted grains and are a “good source” of fiber.

The pervasiveness of Mexican and Latin cuisines is also driving sales, as consumers seek to recreate dishes they enjoy at restaurants. “Interestingly, tacos have grown to become very popular among U.S. consumers in typical American-fare restaurants and specialized Mexican cuisine accounts, as well as smaller shops—including gas stations—that focus on homemade tacos,” says Oscar Carreon, technical services manager, AB Mauri North America, St. Louis.

As consumers become more comfortable with Mexican cuisine, they’re looking to incorporate it into their own home cooking. “We know that consumers, especially millennials, prefer cooking at home, because they perceive it to be healthier, so they’re seeking out ingredients like tortillas to make their favorite Mexican and Latin dishes at home,” Cushen adds.

If you ask Srivastava, the key attributes driving the tortilla market are health deliverables, innovative seasonings and the product’s intrinsic convenience.

On the health side, Carreon says the tortilla market follows trends leading innovation in other baked goods, including organic, non-GMO, clean label, Paleo, gluten-free, low-carb and more. When it comes to ingredients, these trends translate to the use of natural preservatives, prebiotics, probiotics, pulses, ancient grains and clean-label dough conditioners, as well as a decrease (or elimination) in the use of chemical emulsifiers.

Olga Garcia, milling marketing manager, Bunge North America, St. Louis, sees ancient grains like quinoa, sorghum and millet as ingredients that meet health trends and can drive tortilla sales. To meet demand, Bunge’s Whole Harvest Ancients brand added these ingredients to masa products for tortillas to help brands seeking unique attributes and subsequent entry into the “superfood” market. The Whole Harvest Ancients line offers higher nutritional value, including higher fiber and protein content, as well as gluten-free and non-GMO labels.

This trend toward ancient grains grows out of previous shopper preferences that placed spinach and whole-wheat wraps at the top of consumer lists, as they’re often perceived as healthier than bread. “Ancient grains like quinoa, sorghum and millet can be added to masa products meeting functional requirements, such as desired taste, texture and, of course, the ‘better-for-me’ claim that consumers pursue,” Garcia says.

Other healthy ingredients making waves in the tortilla market include vegetable proteins, fiber and enzymes, Srivastava says. “Health-conscious consumers are looking for high fiber content in their diet and are inclined to go for familiar ingredients on the label, such as enzymes,” she says. “We are working on opportunities that utilize a cleaner-label approach—for example, enzyme-based premixes or high-fiber and low-carb premixes. We are also exploring new solutions, such as modifying flour protein quality using lentil proteins or pea proteins.”

Though tortillas have traditionally been seen as a vehicle for other ingredients, those offering flavors of their own are driving sales. “Current trends are moving away from bland flavor to seasoning blends that make tortillas more acceptable and appealing than ever,” Srivastava says, citing recent launches carrying queso and chile pepper flavor profiles, such as jalapeño.

“For years, the tortilla category lacked flavor innovation, but now we’re beginning to see some new, innovative flavors making their way into tortillas,” says Cushen. “Standard flavors just don’t cut it with consumers these days. They’re adventurous, and they want food brands to be adventurous with their products, too.”

To this end, Fuchs North America launched Wrap It Up in 2018, a limited-edition collection of seasonings for tortillas and wraps. “Knowing that consumers are going to push for new, unique flavors in this category, we wanted to provide our customers with a starting point for tortilla innovation,” says Cushen. The collection includes Latin-inspired flavors like chipotle adobo and tomatillo salsa, but also Mediterranean-inspired flavors like tzatziki and flavors inspired by comfort foods like bacon Cheddar.


Looking forward

Going forward, the tortilla market will be defined by products that take current trends one step further.

On the flavor front, Carreon says that local and regional flavors will build on trends that demand Latin flavors in tortilla offerings. Also, new combinations of cereals and grains will come to the forefront, as consumers demand more than a standard flour tortilla. “Ultimately, like bread, tortillas can be an enjoyable accompaniment to dishes, rather than thought of as a carrier for other foods,” he says.

This trend toward adventurous flavors has a role to play as the health trend continues to grow, as well, says Cushen, since bold flavors can eliminate consumers’ need to add a sauce or spread (which can add calories). Instead, they’re getting the big flavor they demand from their tortilla alone.

Health demands will continue to drive sales in the tortilla market, with a focus on high-fiber, gluten-free, organic and non-GMO varieties. “Flour fortification with essential minerals, and vegetable protein solutions with the convenience and tastefulness of innovative flavors, are also gaining traction,” Srivastava adds.

Clean label may also undergo further transformation, as consumers look at processing itself, rather than just what appears on the Nutrition Facts label. “Cleaner-label ingredients, and those with a lower impact on processing, will continue to gain ground,” explains Carreon. “Changing ingredients, however, comes at a risk, as processing can often be less tolerant, with desired outcomes more variable. Our goal is to continue to bring new innovative ideas—whether it’s ingredients, processes or insights—into the tortilla market, and at the same time, to bring minimal to zero impact into traditional tortilla making.”

State of the Industry: Bakery Report
Overview | Bread | Tortillas | Sweet Goods | Snack Cakes | Pizza | Desserts | Cookies | Buns & Rolls | Bars | Breakfast Products