Tortillas, always one of the most versatile breads, had extra mileage to accomplish this past year: consumers wanted better-for-you options for their tacos, flautas, and fajitas. They also wanted these to be easily accessible at their local grocery stores so that they could cook at home during the pandemic.


Market data

According to data from IRI, Chicago for the past 52 weeks ending April 18, 2021, the retail tortilla product segment grew 13.1 percent to $3.2 billion. Mission Foods Inc., the category leader, took in $1.2 billion in sales, an increase of 23.0 percent from last year, and Gruma Corp. took in $437.5 million, with a slight increase of 2.8 percent. The No. 3 company in the segment, Olé Mexican Foods Inc., took in $406.5 million in sales, with a sizable increase of 24.2 percent. Also of note, General Mills had a 12.9 percent increase in sales to $385.8 million.

Mission’s Super Soft tortillas brand had a particularly strong year, up 104.5 percent to $466.0 million. Better-for-you tortillas also resonated, with Mission’s Carb Balance tortillas growing 46.7 percent to $267.7 million.

In other better-for-you notes, Olé Mexican Foods saw continued growth for its Xtreme Wellness brand, up 33.3 percent to $90.1 million.

The refrigerated tortillas segment was up by 8.6 percent to $117.5 million in sales. Circle Foods LLC continues as the category leader, bringing in $44.3 million in sales, with an increase of 8.7 percent. Siete Family Foods experienced a notable increase of 159.7 percent in sales, bringing it to $15.0 million total.


Looking back

In 2020, tortillas often pivoted to using different bases versus just corn and flour.

In August 2020, La Tortilla Factory released cauliflower tortillas, made with cassava flour, as well as low-carb, high-fiber quinoa and flax tortillas. In addition, Tia Lupita released its first upcycled tortilla line, which is also grain-free, and includes nopales (cactus). The flour used, organic okara flour, is a grain-free flour with neutral taste and superfood benefits.

“One of the areas we are seeing an increase in is the prevalence of lentil and pea-based snacks. These plant-based snack foods have taken off over the last year as consumers look for alternative protein sources and better-for-you options. These trends, while not new, have gained interest during the pandemic,” says Anita Srivastava, Ph.D., senior technical service manager, bakery, Kemin, Des Moines, IA.

“With shortages in meat at the beginning of the pandemic, many turned to alternative protein sources, which has helped to increase their popularity. The bigger driver is the focus on health and wellness amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers are paying more attention to what foods they are eating and are seeking out some of these plant-based products as alternatives to traditional snack foods,” says Srivastava.

“When we look at bakery, and specifically tortillas, Kemin offers a robust line of products to help meet shelf-life and microbial stability goals. Our SHIELD line of food safety products helps with mold inhibition in corn or flour tortillas. Our line of tortilla softeners helps to extend the shelf life of tortillas and helps reduce the wastage due to textural spoilage,” Srivastava notes. “Our TillaSoft Relax helps manufactures reduce machine uplift of tortillas. Finally, Kemin offers innovative delivery options for manufacturers. Our Kemin Application Services and technical teams can work with manufacturers to provide dosing systems that deliver precise dosages, help minimize ingredient wastage and lessen the cross contamination of ingredients.”

Jennifer Tesch, chief marketing officer, Healthy Food Ingredients, Fargo, ND, says that trends in the tortilla category include continued growth and demand for clean, simple label, whole grain, gluten-free, plant-based proteins, non-GMO, and organic. “We have seen continued demand for amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa, and a resurgence in interest in sorghum, flax, and millet specifically. In general, ancient grains play into a whole grain, gluten-free trend while encompassing a clean and simple label,” she explains.

“Non-GMO Project Verified and certified organic, our Suntava Purple Corn is a great fit for tortilla applications, providing a bold purple color to the finished product with added functional properties including antioxidants and anthocyanins, which speak to a better-for-you trend,” Tesch finishes.

Hollis Kelley, tortilla sales manager, Allied Blending and Ingredients, Keokuk, IA, says that the tortilla market continues to grow 5 to 6 percent annually. “Some of the trends we are seeing in the market is gluten-free, low-carb, products/labels that have added nutritional value—for example, high-protein, or heart-healthy—BE Free BatchPaks, artisan finished products, healthy (better-for-you) ingredients, clean-label concepts, and plant/vegetable-based ingredients,” he says.

Jose Luis Rebolleda, director of tortilla Ingredient sales, Allied Blending and Ingredients, says that Allied Blending blends its ingredients into a BatchPak that best suits its customers market or niche, while providing convenience and consistency. “The benefits of using our BatchPaks are consistency—reducing batch-to-batch variation, exacting additional of highly functional minor ingredients, and higher finished goods yields—inventory, an experienced R&D team, and audits, which can utilize our regulatory/QA personnel to assist,” he says.

Lizzie Parsons, senior associate brand manager, Old El Paso, General Mills, Minneapolis, says that recent shopper card data shows that upwards of 60 percent of baskets include perimeter items like produce, meat, and dairy. This bodes well for the Mexican category, since tacos are inherently fresh and topped with things like cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and guacamole. “56 percent of Mexican meals are eaten at home and consumers are always on the lookout for easy and affordable solutions. Customization remains key, which is why you see versatile items like sauces performing so well,” she notes.

Old El Paso launched has launched many new items in the past few years, Parsons says. “This lineup included innovation across four different categories to help families rally around taco night in new and exciting ways.” He notes the company’s Our World Taco Kits have received a lot of praise, featuring trending fusion flavors in a familiar taco format. “Everything comes packaged in a single, convenient kit, which we can all appreciate.”


Looking forward

In the future, Srivastava predicts that products in the tortilla category will contain more health-focused ingredients.

“The main area for opportunities across the baking and snack categories is the inclusion of health ingredients. For example, product that have immune enhancers or increased vitamin C or zinc. With consumers focused on health and wellness more than ever, products that help provide health support have become more popular. We expect to see this trend continue as the pandemic continues,” she says.

Tesch suggests that plant-based proteins and pulses will become popular in 2021.

“With plant-based proteins gaining traction, pulse utilization can play a key role with precooked bean flour inclusion, as an example, which allows for increased protein and fiber while still providing good functionality from a mouthfeel and texture standpoint,” she notes.

Kelley says that Allied Blending will work with its customers to provide Solutions based formulations that meet exacting specifications.

“Gluten-free, Atkins, keto, and low-carb items continue to change and grow within the industry. However, right now, with the new labeling laws for 2022, we are seeing a significant movement towards non-GMO and BE Free wraps and tortillas. We are also seeing interest in replacing traditional corn and flour with ingredients that have a more nutritional value for both tortillas and tortilla chips,” Kelley notes.

As for COVID-19, Parsons comments that it has sparked new momentum for the category, nearly doubling the growth outlook. “We saw significant growth with households that do not have children, as consumers across all demographics, including those who may have previously dined out more frequently, made more meals at home. Many consumers expanded their palates with new flavors and recipes, and industry experts believe that some of these habits are here to stay.”