LAS VEGAS — Tortillas might just be one category in the baking industry, but it’s certainly not isolated. It’s seeing as much growth — and change — as any other category. This was evident at the 25th annual Tortilla Industry Association (T.I.A.) conference held May 30-31. The conference saw a 20% increase in attendance, nearing a record number, said Jim Kabbani, chief executive officer of T.I.A. The show also touted a 10% increase in exhibitors, Mr. Kabbani noted.
The show of supplier support offered tortilla manufacturers a wealth of support for issues ranging from formulating for strength, elasticity, softness, shelf life and clean label, to operational issues for smaller manufacturers who are experiencing growth and turning to automation.
“The market for tortillas has grown,” Mr. Kabbani said. “Customer profiles and requirements are diversifying, as opposed to the old days when the only options were corn or wheat. Today, the range of demand is so wide that more manufacturers are looking for solutions on how to diversify their product lines as much as possible to meet those demands.”
Whether it is expanding production lines to accommodate multiple changeovers, tweaking formulations for a variety of product types or meeting dietary requirements like gluten-free, tortilla producers are looking for help to quickly and efficiently accommodate the change and growth.
As with anyone involved in the baking and snack industries, tortilla producers also are facing a wave of regulatory changes including F.S.M.A. and proposed nutrition labeling changes. Daniel Brooker, founder, Brooker Laboratories, Long Beach, Calif., provided attendees with an update on the possible changes. Expected changes, Mr. Brooker noted, include putting more emphasis on serving sizes coupled with servings per container, reversing the order in which they are currently listed.
“The intent is to replace some out-of-date serving sizes; people eat different amounts of food today than they did 20 years ago,” Mr. Brooker said. Servings per container will likely have more prominence toward the top.
“It will be clear how many servings a person is eating in a package,” he said.
Mr. Brooker also indicated more emphasis will be placed on sugar content, specifically, requiring the declaration of added sugars.
“In my opinion, in the last year or so, the ‘bad guy’ was sodium,” he said. “Going forward, the bad guy is sugar. Keep that in mind when you’re formulating new products.”
Another dietary trend manufacturers are facing is gluten-free. Those who have traditionally only produced corn tortillas never had to bother with the issues surrounding gluten, but flour tortilla producers and those looking to extend product lines are now facing it head on. Judi Adams, c.e.o. of the Wheat Foods Council, offered attendees insight on the gluten-free trend and the needs of those who suffer from celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Bakers looking to formulate a gluten-free product will contend with elasticity and flavor issues, which may become a costly adjustment not only to formulating but also to production. And it doesn’t just affect the bottom line; a gluten-containing product that is reformulated to be a gluten-free alternative often may come with higher sugar, fat and calorie counts, Ms. Adams warned.
Recently, Peter Gibson, gastroenterology professor at Monash University, reversed his opinion of non-celiac gluten sensitivity (his 2011 research contributed to the gluten-free trend). Despite the fact that gluten-free diets for purposes such as weight loss could eventually fade (no such research exists to support the claim, Ms. Adams said), the needs for consumers with celiac disease will remain, and tortilla manufacturers will need to decide what is worth the cost of R.&D. and production adjustments to meet their customers’ demands.
As category crossover continues to grow across the baking industry, companies without a presence in the tortilla category were seen on the tradeshow floor, looking for ways to think outside the box in new product development. Crossing lines to find new solutions isn’t new, as some suppliers noted that solutions for issues such as stretch actually may come from baguette bakers having similar problems, especially when they work with the same ingredient lists and process controls.
Change abounds in baking, and tortillas are no exception. T.I.A. will continue to help manufacturers address these with upcoming events including the technical conference Oct. 9-10 in Dallas. T.I.A. also is partnering with AIB International to bring its tortilla production course to Los Angeles in August.
“Everyone loves this course, but it’s not always easy to get them out to AIB in Manhattan, Kas.,” Mr. Kabbani said. “Having it in Los Angeles will be a great benefit to our members.”
For more information, visit www.tortilla-info.com.