The tortilla category experienced steady growth over the past decade. According to a market research study from the Tortilla Industry Association released in the fall of 2005, the industry grew more than 8% annually during this time. The study, “The State of the Tortilla Industry 2004,” also reported that the industry comprised more than $6 billion in sales. New products, changing consumer palettes, wider accessibility through restaurants and fast-casual chains, alternative food applications and a healthier perception from the low-carb craze all contributed to the growth of the tortilla market.

However, all good things must come to an end … or at least slow down. The golden years of tortilla growth have done just that. According to ACNielsen’s Strategic Planner, Chicago, IL, dollar sales growth of tortillas dropped to 2.9% this year compared with 5.6% in 2005 and 8.9% in 2004.

In efforts to refuel the market growth, tortilla manufacturers continue to introduce new and innovative products. Top trends such as healthier and functional foods are driving this new product innovation. Manufacturers are not only offering lower-fat versions of their products but are adding functional ingredients such as omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains and alternative grains, olive oil, natural flavors and more to help their products appeal to ever increasing numbers of health-conscious consumers. New flavors and formats also help tortillas cross over into the world of sandwiches and wraps.

FORTIFY AND SATISFY. Fortification is big in all areas of the food industry, and tortillas are no different. New tortilla and wrap products introduced during the past year tout the addition of everything from antioxidants and healthy fats to functional ingredients, inclusions, alternative grains and soy.

Cali-Wraps, Ste. Mary, ON, began offering an omega-3 fortified tortilla variety late in 2005. The wraps are available in original, whole-wheat, Mediterranean herb and whole-grain varieties. The company worked with Ocean Nutrition, Dartmouth, NS, and its food additive MEG 3. According to the company, it supplies DHA and EPA omega-3s, which have been scientifically proven to be good for the heart and essential in the functional development of the brain, eyes and nerves. The ingredient is encapsulated in a gelatin and can be added to different types of food products. In addition to omega-3, the tortillas are fortified with oat fiber, which gives consumers 3 g of fiber per 75-g tortilla. Although the tortillas are currently marketed to health-conscious consumers, Mark Hyland, Cali-Wraps president, thought that the trend of adding omega-3s to foods will continue to catch on and that DHA and EPA will one day be just like vitamin A or C. “The longer we put these out there, the more people are going to want and expect it,” he said.

Mission Foods, a division of Gruma USA, Irving, TX, offers Mission Tortillas Plus!, a complete line that focuses on great taste plus nutrition. The Plus! line is divided into three categories: Heart Healthy, Multi Grain and Carb Balance. The company’s Web site includes a special section for the line that offers information about the functional benefits of these three varieties, nutritional information, an FAQ section to educate consumers about whole grains, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and more plus meal ideas. The meal ideas section veers away from Mexican-American food favorites, instead featuring healthier options such as ginger chicken wraps, fish tacos and veggie quesadillas.

Mission’s Heart Healthy tortillas are 96% fat free and contain flaxseed for added omega-3s. Mission’s Multi Grain tortillas are 100% whole grain and contain seven different grains. Although the low-carb craze has all but disappeared, consumers are still conscious of carbs, especially those following a glycemic-index-based diet. For those consumers, Carb Balance tortillas contain only 5 net g of carbs.

Tumaro’s Gourmet Tortillas, Los Angeles, CA, introduced Soy-Full Heart Flatbreads that feature Solae brand soy protein. The tortillas contain 12 g of whole grains, 3 g of fat and 200 to 420 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per serving. They are 92% fat free, have 0 g of trans fat and are a good source of fiber. Wheat, Soy and Flax, 8 Grain Soy and Apple ‘n Cinnamon varieties are available. According to the company, the January 2006 introduction was the first of its kind in national distribution. “Solae soy protein gives our flatbreads a nutritional punch that is unmatched in the industry,” said Brian Jacobs, vicepresident of Tumaro’s in a press release earlier this year. “Fortified with Solae soy protein, omega-3s, multiple whole grains and great taste, we expect our new flatbreads to revitalize the category.”

FLAVOR FUSION. Flavor has been another avenue the tortilla category has chosen to appeal to a broader consumer base and help tortillas cross over into applications such as sandwiches, wraps and roll-ups. Consumer palettes are expanding to include spicier, bolder flavors. Manufacturers are even using natural flavorful ingredients and inclusions to carry functional benefits to their products.

La Tortilla Factory, Santa Rosa, CA, focuses on natural ingredients that span from rosemary to green onion to garlic and herb to create its flavored tortillas and wraps. “The key behind our flavors and ingredients is that they are fresh,” said Michael Tamayo, vice-president of R&D and business development. “Therefore, our ingredients are packed with functional and wellness benefits. For example, our Tomato Basil Wrap is baked with fresh sweet onion juice, fresh garlic juice, fresh red bell pepper juice and fresh California Central Valley tomatoes. The natural color comes from fresh ingredients, as opposed to using artificial ingredients or colors.” He pointed out that the real onion juice contains the antioxidant quercetin and the tomatoes provide lycopene to the tortillas.
La Tortilla Factory’s newest line is its Extra Virgin Olive Oil Wraps. These were developed to address the issue of trans fat and to provide a unique taste profile that appeals to consumers. The line includes both conventional and organic wraps. The organic wraps are available in flour, whole-wheat and wheat and brown rice. The conventional varieties include white flour, tomato basil and rosemary. All are made with pure, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil.

Mr. Tamayo said the company’s new products reflect its mission: “We are a family of employees committed to satisfying our customers’ needs through innovative and great tasting products that contribute to a healthy lifestyle” Company c.e.o. Carlos Tamayo continued,“Our vision and mission serve as the litmus test for all products that we manufacture now and in the future.”

Other companies are introducing new and innovative flavors as well. Tumaro’s was recognized by Progressive Grocer magazine for its flavored flour tortillas, which were commended for being low-fat, trans-fat-free and composed of 89% to 93% organic ingredients as well as for their 90-day shelf life. “Such refinements have allowed tortillas to break out of the refrigerated section and earn displays in other sections of the store,” reported the magazine. Tumaro’s tortillas and wraps are available in flavors such as Chipotle Chile, Spinach and Vegetable and Pesto and Garlic, to name a few.

Mission Foods features a line of flavored wraps available in Zesty Garlic Herb, Sundried Tomato Basil and Garden Spinach Herb. The wraps are positioned for use in applications such as sandwiches and pinwheels.

MARKET SPECIFIC. Narrowing the focus of functional fortification, French Meadow Bakery, Minneapolis, MN, entered the tortilla category with a range of functional, organic tortillas targeted at specific consumer demographics and needs. “We got into the tortilla segment because we watched the market grow and the product become more mainstream,” said Lynn Gordon, president. “We wanted to offer functional tortilla and wrap products that offered similar benefits to our line of breads.”

French Meadow benefits from using its bakery cafes as a test market for its products. Ms. Gordon said they were able to watch consumer trends develop and test its tortillas in a variety applications from wraps to quesadillas at the cafes.

The company’s first tortilla introduction was Fat Flush Sprouted Tortillas. Development was prompted by a request by Ann Louise Gittleman, MS, CNS, who authored The Fat Flush Plan, a weight-loss system based on essential fats, balanced proteins and low-glycemic carbs. The tortillas are flourless and are made from sprouted wheat. They are high in protein and fiber and contain no oils, sweeteners, baking powders or dairy.
Other tortillas that followed from the company are equally target specific. French Meadow’s Woman’s Tortilla is formulated to support women’s health. They contain flaxseed for a rich source of protein, fiber, zinc and omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids. They are organic and gluten free.

Later this fall, the company will introduce Men’s Tortillas that are made with sprouted wheat and contain lycopene and zinc-rich fava beans to promote prostate health.

Healthy Hemp Tortillas are formulated for consumers who want a gluten-free option and are made from hempseeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and flaxseed. According to the company, hempseed is a source of fiber, iron, protein, calcium, magnesium and manganese. It is also a good source of omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids. All of the French Meadow tortillas are available nationwide.

“Our tortillas are unique because they are certified organic, contain no sweeteners and each variety has a specific customer target,” Ms. Gordon said.

Functional and flavorful, new tortillas and wraps that appeal to health-conscious consumers are helping to keep the market lively and competitive with other baked foods categories.