Hispanic sweet breads and pastries are gaining traction among consumers at retailers across America.

As ethnic baked foods and snacks become more ubiquitous in American culture, opportunities abound for bakers and snack makers. 

“There’s an increasing demand for ethnic foods from the American population in general, regardless of background or ethnicity,” said Warren Stoll, marketing director for Kontos Foods, Paterson, N.J. “And there’s a lot of crossover because everyone knows about all these other cultures, and they want those foods. They’re exotic; they’re exciting; they’re tasteful and spicy.”

Kontos Foods sells flatbreads spanning a range of cultures including Greek, Mediterranean, Indian and Hispanic to food service and retail. Demand for bread products has been sluggish in recent years as consumers seek low-carb and gluten-free diets, and flatbreads and other ethnic breads are bucking that trend. Traditional bakeries and snack companies are officially on notice.

Greek foods like pita can be percieved as healthy if they tap into other trends like Greek-lifestyle diets.

According to the NPD Group, ethnic baked goods — and the flavors they bring — are changing the way people eat. Cultural influences and U.S. consumers’ more adventurous taste buds have made flavors like tikka masala, poblano and doenjang recognizable names on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus. 

“The affinity U.S. consumers have for ethnic flavors and dishes is supported by the fact that 75% of U.S. adults — especially young adults — are open to trying new foods,” the NPD Group reported.

As the desire for new flavors and products grows, people expect a wider range of options. And while it may not be easy to travel internationally, experiencing the food of international cuisines is more readily available — and is far more affordable — than travel.

Our Little Rebellion recently released Spicy Queso Popcorners, which offers a classic Tex-Mex flavor. 

“Consumers and their families are easily bored of the ‘same old’ and are hungering for out-of-the-ordinary experiences,” said Karen Toufayan, vice-president of marketing and sales, Toufayan Bakeries. “Experimenting with new food products satisfies this desire.”

Decades ago, if a person wanted to eat Thai food, he or she would have to know of an authentic local restaurant or indulge in the food while visiting a large or foreign city. Today, people can find these restaurants in most cities in the U.S. This influence is reaching well into grocery stores and other retail settings as consumers expect to find international cuisine close to home.

Gunther Brinkman, vice-president, contract manufacturing, Ideal Snacks Corp., said this long-term trend is driven by increased globalization. 

“There are more people of different ethnicities living in the U.S., more of them opening restaurants and cooking for friends, and the cuisines are diffusing throughout the U.S. population,” he said.

Whether snacking or creating a meal, consumers are using ethnic breads in new and exciting ways.

He added that the most popular cuisines such as Mediterranean, Indian and Asian feature a lot of plant-based proteins. Ideal Snacks, a co-manufacturer of snack products, is seeing a lot of demand for that in the snack industry.

“The most recognizable brands we work with in the ethnically influenced market are successfully sold in channels like Whole Foods and Sprouts,” Mr. Brinkman said. “They are brands that extend well beyond the snack market.”

He said other snack products that a typical consumer would probably not identify as “ethnic” are now being made with flavors that can appear in the traditional snack aisle. For example, Our Little Rebellion, manufactured by Ideal Snacks, recently released a new flavor for its Popcorners snack. Spicy Queso offers a classic Tex-Mex flavor. Frito-Lay in the past year released a new Chipotle Cream variety of its Doritos chips.

“These items will never replace the ever-popular flavors like salted, ranch and nacho, but they add a bit of flair and undoubtedly have an effect on the rest of the company’s line,” Mr. Brinkman said.

According to Mintel, snacks drive sales for Mexican/Hispanic and Mediterranean/Middle Eastern foods while the Asian/Indian food segment sees more activity in “center-of-plate” items, or those that a meal is built around like naan bread that is used as a vehicle for staple meat dishes. 

“Despite the fact that snacking plays a strong role in U.S. diets, a move toward the adoption of more substantial meal components will do well for more long-term adoption,” Mintel stated in its International Food Trends: Spotlight on Flavor 2017 report.

Flatbreads make good center-of-plate options thanks to their versatility. Kontos Foods produces more than 50 varieties in different shapes and sizes. The newest item is a 9-inch pre-grilled flatbread that has the appearance of a cooked panini. The company produces a 

variety of pita breads that can serve as a carrier to anything that might go on a sandwich or be used as the base for a pizza.

Kontos also has other ethnic offerings that can be used as an anchor for a meal or as a snack. Its line of Hispanic pan plano breads features flavor blends that include pico de gallo, cilantro, chipotle and lime. Other breads like naan, tandoori and misi roti are Indian varieties that offer an entirely different experience.

Toufayan Bakeries also offers a variety of flatbreads including pitas, wraps, naan and lavash. To market their products as key elements of meals and snacks, the company recruits food bloggers and nutritionists to develop an array of recipes focusing on different dayparts and meal occasions. It has also developed videos that rolled out via social media to demonstrate how the recipes can be made and direct traffic to its website.

7-Eleven launched a line of packaged Hispanic traditional sweet bread items that are available throughout Texas.

Toufayan has also found success with these items in the deli section of mainstream supermarkets. 

“Not only is the deli area associated with fresher, higher quality products, but supermarkets also are increasingly open to satisfying their customers with international, non-traditional products as they vie for the consumer food dollar,” Ms. Toufayan said. “Thus, the deli area is more open to new and different products. It’s also an area where consumers are willing to pay more.”

Consumers can find a variety of ethnic breads in c-store channels now as well, either as snacks or as meal replacements. 7-Eleven recently launched a line of packaged Hispanic traditional sweet bread items that are available in approximately 640 stores throughout Texas. The line features four flavors, including: Mantecada, sweet bread with a soft and fluffy texture and vanilla coating; Panquecitos, golden, soft and sweet vanilla mini loaf cakes; Roles de Canela, cinnamon rolls with raisins; and Panque con Nuez, sliced pound cake with chopped pecan topping. The company said these items have been extensively tested in Mexico to ensure proper flavor, texture, aroma and appearance.

Sales of international food types grew 19% from 2011 to 2016 and reached $10 billion in 2016, according to Mintel. While adoption of familiar international food types is strong, the report stated, consumers are more likely to eat international food in food service environments than to purchase or prepare for at-home consumption. That said, frequent exposure to international food, through shifting U.S. demographics and increased appearance on U.S. menus, will help drive growth in other sectors.