The tortilla category largely flatlined during the past year, with some variation by type or brand of shell, as the world began to reopen after the worst of the pandemic and fewer consumers worked at home. Consumers have shown interest in healthier ingredients, a wider set of flavor options, and products aimed at cuisines and day-parts other than Mexican and dinner, respectively. Tortilla makers predict those trends will continue.
The largest market category containing tortillas, hard/soft tortilla/taco kits, declined in sales by 0.4% to $3.25 billion for the 52 weeks ending March 20, according to multi-outlet data from IRI, Chicago. The Mission brand dominated the category with $1.28 billion sales, up 3.7%, for 39.4% market share overall. Other top-selling brands included Guerrero, $414.8 million, up 0.6%; Old El Paso, $406.0 million, up 3.5%; and La Banderita, $296.1 million, up 0.5%. Private label saw sales of $196.0 million, down 6.5%.
The considerably smaller refrigerated tortilla/egg roll/wonton wrap category experienced an 8.5% rise in sales to $185.1 million for that same time period, IRI data showed. Tortilla Land was by far the largest seller, at $51.3 million, up 15.4%, with 41% market share; followed by Siete, $18.6 million, up 28.5%; and Azteca, $10.5 million, down 17.1%. Lastly, the center store wraps subcategory saw sales of $92.9 million, up 4.5%, led by Gruma S A, $51.3 million, up 10.0%; and Tumaros Inc., $28.0 million, up 0.2%.
The tortilla category has gained like most food and beverage categories at retail due to the increase in at-home eating occasions during the pandemic, with 84% of U.S. households purchasing a tortilla item during the past year, according to Julie Gould, director of brand marketing for Ortega, owned by B&G Foods, Parsippany-Troy Hills, New Jersey.
“Consumption of tortillas has skyrocketed” since the pandemic began, she says. “As consumers are eating more meals at home, it’s definitely benefited the category. And our consumers have become increasingly younger, with Gen Z and millennials entering the category. … We’re always trying to listen to the consumer and see where they’re looking to grow, not only in base items but also where they want to bring the category next.”
Ortega has noticed an upsurge in consumer interest in alternative tortilla ingredients and flavor combinations, Gould says. “Companies are looking to alternative flours as another way to innovate within the category,” she says. “Tortillas transcend eating occasions—you have breakfast burritos, for example, and consumers are finding creative ways to use them throughout multiple recipes.”
Another trend in the category has been the rise of mini-taco shells, alongside an overall “mini-food” trend that incorporates a variety of day-parts, Gould says. “Any way we can work in a new experience for the consumer; we’re trying to find fun, new ways to make meals exciting,” she says. “Mini taco shells feed into that. That opens up other eating occasions like appetizers, hors d’oeuvres, and snacks. We’re seeing a lot of the category move to that customization at mealtime.”
Gould also has noticed an uptick in the variety of sauces as well as growing interest in street tacos. “That’s another way for customers to customize,” she says. “They’ll take it from there and make it their own. Street taco sauces are our way of expanding the taco sauce segment, with a focus to bring authentic flavors from street taco trucks to consumers,” with a line of three, each designed to work with a different protein: Asada, with three chile and garlic; Mojo, chile and lime; and Tinga, chipotle, tomato, and jalapeno.
The expansion of low-carb-positioned items to align with consumer dietary trends, and new product offerings with other health claims—like low calories, high-fiber, no added sugar, gluten-free and vegan/plant-based—are among the trends that have crossed the radar screen of Alissa Bessett, brand manager at UNFI, Providence, Rhode Island, which produces the Tumaro’s private-label brand.
“Retail offerings are expanding in both center store and perimeter to align with consumer needs for us across a wide variety of recipes, due to tortillas being one of the most versatile pantry staples,” she says. “Mexican-based cuisines are also driving growth and popularity, with items including breakfast burritos and tacos. … Tortilla sales continue to remain strong due to shifts from the pandemic, with consumers eating more at home, demanding healthier alternatives and more convenient options.”
The Tumaro’s brand has gained awareness and momentum due to consumers’ shift toward better-for-you alternatives, such as Weight Watchers and Keto. Social media also has helped to fuel brand growth “with our robust network of highly engaged, diet-conscious consumers who are constantly sharing how our products fit their diet goals, and the versatility of our products through recipe inspiration,” Bessett says. Foodservice sales are “still in a state of recovery” from the pandemic’s impact on restaurants, catering and prepared foods in-store, she adds.
Tumaro’s has recently introduced two new products in its 8-inch wrap line, both of which are carb-friendly, keto-friendly, provide a good source of fiber, and have no added sugar, “aligning with the key nutritionals consumers are looking for,” Bessett says. The Everything Bagel wrap has 60 calories, five net carbs, eight grams of fiber and six grams of protein; while the Classic Sourdough wrap has 60 calories, five net carbs, seven grams of fiber, and four grams of protein, she says.
Another new product recently released in the category is the Hilltop Hearth Cilantro Chickpea Wrap from US Foods, Rosemont, Illinois. The 12-inch wrap, made with garbanzo bean flour and seasoned with green onion and cilantro, provides 12 grams of protein, a good source of fiber, and a vegan offering from those seeking one, the company says.
Going forward, Ortega plans to keep raising the bar in the tortilla category by offering more well-loved flavors, Gould says. The brand planned to roll out two new taco seasoning flavors this spring: ranch, and cheesy taco, she says. “Both are bold flavors, on-trend with consumers, and will allow consumers to add more flavors to tacos, and proteins in general. Seasoning packets are a great way to boost the flavor of a variety of recipes.”
Based on the brand’s social listening, the tortilla category is likely to continue to grow steadily and probably outpace other carb segments, Gould says. “It’s so flexible; it can work in a variety of uses,” she says. “While consumers will go back to their offices a little bit, the new hybrid world will enable at-home consumption of meals and enable growth of categories like tortillas.”
Tumaro’s does not have any new products it plans to release in the coming months, although it’s considering several possibilities, Bessette says. But the brand expects the tortilla category to continue to do well as consumers shift to more out-of-home activities “due to the convenience and ability to align with a fast-moving lifestyle,” she says. “They are easy to prepare, can be used in a wide variety of recipes, and make a quick and convenient meal solution for a hybrid work lifestyle.”
As consumers return to restaurants, social gatherings, and holiday celebrations with family and friends, foodservice sales will pick up as well, although not as quickly as those of retail, Bessette predicts. “Consumers will continue to seek more low-carb options that span across carb-heavy categories as there is continued focus on health and wellness,” she says. “We expect the category to continue evolving by introducing new innovative flavors, including both nostalgic and globally inspired; integrating unique inclusions that help drive health and wellness attributes; and the expansion of gluten-free and grain-free options.”
Source: IRI Market Advantage, Integrated Fresh, Total U.S. - Multi Outlet w/ C-Store (Grocery, Drug, Mass Market, Convenience, Military and Select Club & Dollar Retailers), 52 Weeks Ending 03-20-22