Herr's tortilla chips
 Tortilla chips have grown because they are still perceived as a healthier snacking alternative to potato chips.

KANSAS CITY — While potato chips meet consumer demand for indulgence, tortilla chips have grown because they are still perceived as a healthier snacking alternative. Tortilla chip manufacturers continue to innovate and deliver on the demand for more unique types of chips made with quality ingredients, according to Mintel’s report on Chips, Salsas and Dips in January 2015.

Dollar sales for tortilla chips increased nearly 4% totaling nearly $4 billion, noted Information Resources, Inc. for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 21, 2016.

Bob Clark
Bob Clark, vice-president of marketing for Herr Foods

“Outside of the larger brands, which dominate market share, there is a lot of growth for smaller companies looking at more authentic-style (products) and branding,” said Bob Clark, vice-president of marketing, Herr Foods, Inc., Nottingham, Pa. “Tortilla chips continue to be seen as natural and have begun to use alternative grain bases.”

Though chips and dips are perceived as an indulgent splurge, consumers are moving away from processed foods across the board, and manufacturers will continue to do well to consider better-for-you attributes when innovating tortilla chips. Customers are more likely to buy products with wholesome, natural ingredients more than those with “free-from” claims, according to the Mintel report.

Tortilla chips using a wide variety of inclusions such as alternative corns, beans, vegetables and whole grains, and offering organic and clean labels are showing growth in the market among consumers.

Brett Hartmann
Brett Hartmann, category manager of snacks and grains, for Hain Celestial

“For more than 40 years, our Garden of Eatin’ brand has provided great tasting, wholesome snack options made with organic corn,” said Brett Hartmann, category manager snacks and grains, The Hain Celestial Group Inc., Boulder, Colo. “Consumers’ awareness around ingredients and nutrition has increased, so consumers are making an effort to avoid mindless snacking, and instead are choosing snacks based on benefit as well as taste.”

Garden of Eatin’ corn tortilla chips are also non-bioengineered and gluten-free.

Garden of Eatin tortilla chips
Garden of Eatin’ corn tortilla chips are made with organic corn and are non-bioengineered and gluten-free.

“We’re seeing some of the same trends in potato chips move into tortilla chips such as the use of iconic health ingredients,” said Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director, Canadean Progressive Digital Media Group. “For tortilla chips, those ingredients included kale, butternut squash and pumpkin seed.”

Shearer's Snacks, Massillon, Ohio, participates in the categories that represent more than 70% of snack industry sales as well as the cookie and cracker categories. The company sees trends in better-for-you brands, but not just organic or non-bioengineered.

“Trends point toward healthy inclusions, such as beans or quinoa, clean ingredient panels and trending fresh flavors like jalapeño and grilled pineapple,” said Kelly McGolrick, senior director, Shearer’s Snacks. “We introduced tortilla chips with black beans, quinoa, chia, ancient grains and a number of new flavors.”

Skinnygirl tortilla chips
Shearer’s Skinnygirl brand includes Blue Corn Tortilla & Sea Salt with Flax, Sweet Thai Chili Blue Corn Tortilla with Flax, and Salsa Verde Tortilla with Ancient Grains.

Shearer’s Skinnygirl brand includes Blue Corn Tortilla & Sea Salt with Flax, Sweet Thai Chili Blue Corn Tortilla with Flax, and Salsa Verde Tortilla with Ancient Grains. Shearer’s brand Sprouted Ancient Blue Grain Tortilla Chips are completely organic, gluten-free with zero trans fat.

On the corn and tortilla chip side, Wyandot, Inc.’s customers increasingly are asking for clean labels. The company wants to remove all the ingredients consumers can’t pronounce, as well as artificial colors creating a cleaner ingredient deck.

Rob Sarlls
Rob Sarlls, president and c.e.o. of Wyandot

“In addition, our customers want more better-for-you attributes included in their chips, like more fiber and ancient grain inclusions, and they want it to taste good, too,” said Rob Sarlls, president and chief executive officer of the Marion, Ohio-based company. “At Wyandot, we’re always working on improving the health attributes of what we’re making.”

Today’s consumer wants it all: a shorter ingredient label but with more “stuff’ in it. Millennials and boomers alike want to eat healthier, but they still want a snacking experience that is enjoyable. Despite the hunt for healthy, taste is still a primary driver for consumers.

“At Wyandot, we’ve spent a lot of time on taste,” Mr. Sarlls said. “We have five food scientists that work to get that fine mix between taste and delivery of the desired health attribute, and if you get that right then you’re doing really well.”

Wyandot tortilla chips
Wyandot wants to simplify the ingredient lists of its corn and tortilla chips.

Flavor and ingredient trends offer a growth opportunity for the corn tortilla chip category. The Garden of Eatin’ brand stays ahead of the trends by experimenting with new flavor profiles and ingredients and innovating to increase its offerings and further engage consumers.

“We find new product inspiration from market research and food trends, as well as feedback from our fans,” Mr. Hartmann said.

Additionally, Hain Celestial finds more consumers are turning to at-home entertaining with friends and family. From small, casual get-togethers to elaborate affairs, snacks play a major role in entertaining.

Garden of Eatin tortilla chip bowls, cantina chips
Hain's Garden of Eatin’ Bowls corn tortilla chips and Garden of Eatin’ Cantina Style corn tortilla chips are ideal for get-togethers.

“Garden of Eatin’ branded chips offers a variety of snacks that are a hit at any occasion,” Mr. Hartmann said. “For instance, our new Garden of Eatin’ Bowls corn tortilla chips offer a perfect bowl shape for scooping your favorite dips. Garden of Eatin’ Cantina Style corn tortilla chips help consumers bring a restaurant experience into their homes.” 

Sweet and spicy flavors, especially sriracha, are trending, and ginger is another way to add heat in the flavor department, according to Canadean’s Product Launch Analytics database of new products. Other innovations with tortilla products tweak shape and texture and reduce calorie count.

At Frito-Lay, Plano, Texas, Doritos Jacked 3D product uses the lattice cut trend, similar to potato chips, where companies are finding new and different ways to add more air to snacks offering a different texture and a reduced calorie count. Tostitos Cantina Chipotle Thins mirrors the “thins” concept being used in the cracker and cookie category as a way to cut calories and deliver more crunch.

Dortios Jacked 3D, Tostitos Cantina Thins
Doritos Jacked 3D uses the lattice cut trend, and Tostitos Cantina Chipotle Thins mirror the “thins” concept being used in the cracker and cookie category.

More and more, social media has become a useful tool to identify consumers and find out which products they like and why and how they are using those products.

“We don’t just listen to consumers, we engage and respond,” said Jim Ward, senior director of sales supply services, Golden Flake, Birmingham, Ala. “Our goal is to create a connection, listen, stay engaged and keep making Golden Flake snacks fun.”

Golden Flake has been successful using social media campaigns to communicate with their customers. The company introduced a tortilla chip called, Tortiyahs!, using a play on words. They supplemented the product launch using a social media campaign inviting followers to send in their favorite dip recipes. The winner was “Turnip Green Dip.”

Tortiyah!s, Golden Flake
Golden Flake supplemented the launch of its Tortiyahs! tortilla chips with a social media campaign.

In all categories of the snack food industry manufacturers need to stay ahead of trends and be on the cutting edge of innovation to be successful.

“Flavors blow in and out,” said Jeff Martin, executive vice-president sales and marketing, Utz Quality Foods, Hanover, Pa. “You have to try to think out a bit further and plan ahead with manufacturing and R.&D. to get out front and hit a homerun with retailers and the ultimate customer.”