Tortilla chips had a great year, driven in part by consumers’ love of salty snacks. However, a growing number are seeking more balance between health and indulgence. They want organic, non-G.M.O. snacks infused with healthier ingredients like whole grains and alternative vegetable bases that support their daily snacking routines.

“Consumers are practicing more mindful eating habits, and snack producers would do well to create products that fit into various eating plans,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice-president and practice leader, client insights, Information Resources, Inc.

Sales of tortilla chips rose about 3.1% in the U.S. snack market in the 52 weeks ended June 16, 2019, to reach $4.4 billion, according to I.R.I. Clean label and organic offerings drove the category.

Frito-Lay, Plano, Texas, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, Inc., saw its Simply Organic Doritos sales increase 71%. Camden, N.J.-based Campbell Soup’s Late July brand of organic tortilla chips sales increased 13.9%.

While not new to snacks, organic and non-G.M.O. products are growing at an accelerated rate. This appeal is stimulated by current lifestyle needs of consumers trying to increase energy and improve health.

“Our innovation pipeline will continue to leverage these trends across brands in our snacking portfolio,” said Hector Briones-Sanchez, vice-president of marketing, innovation for Campbell Snacks. “These innovations will complement other non-GMO Project verified brands, like Late July, giving consumers a broad range of snacks across categories that meet their needs of eating cleaner.”

Thirty-two per cent of all consumers want to eat more organic snacks, according to I.R.I. survey data. While all consumers want less sugar and salt in snacks, concerns about added sugar and salt vary by age demographic.

“We saw that consumers aged 34 to 55 were purchasing fewer flavored tortilla chips because they want to eat healthier,” said Kevin Foltz, director, consumer content, Wise Foods, Berwick, Pa. “The lack of better-for-you tortilla chips in the market opened up a huge opportunity to win back these lapsed buyers and grow the category.”

Wise Foods’ Deep River Honchos line supplies the bold flavor expected in a tortilla chip. They also deliver health claims like certified organic, non-G.M.O. and free from artificial additives.

Functionality in snacks continues to grow, especially with protein. Quest Nutrition, El Segundo, Calif., responded with the launch of Quest Tortilla-Style Protein Chips, available in on-trend flavors like chili lime, nacho cheese and cheddar sour cream. Loaded with 18 to 21 grams of protein, they are also low in sugar and sodium.

“Quest strives to provide people with the foods they crave in healthier formats, so offering better snacking options is important to our strategy,” said Suzanne Ginestro, chief marketing officer, Quest Nutrition. “That’s why Quest has experienced success with the launch of Quest tortilla-style protein chips. Our goal is to flip nutritionals upside-down by creating better-for-you versions of all the foods people crave, replacing unwanted carbs and sugar with protein and fiber.”

While better-for-you (BFY) innovations influence tortilla chips, the growing Hispanic population and increased popularity of Mexican foods also have contributed to category growth.

“Hispanic-oriented snacks are on the rise, giving future ideation for snacks centered around this consumer,” said Kevin Brick, senior vice-president of marketing, Utz Quality Foods, Hanover, Pa.

Innovations that embrace ethnic flavors and ingredients help to “adultify” snacks that can be targeted to young adults, parents and Hispanic consumers, according to Mintel’s 2019 "Potato and Tortilla Chips” report.

“Interest in Mexican cuisine has created a niche for heirloom corn in the restaurant space, which we expect to hit packaged snacks soon,” said Kara Nielsen, vice-president, trends and marketing, CCD Innovation. “Expect to see non-GMO corn chips made with premium corn varieties with a pedigree.”

Flavor innovation influences consumers seeking to satisfy a craving or desired experience. Flavors are more experiential or descriptive, like “chillin’ ” and “blazin’,” according to I.R.I. Snacking Survey data. For example, Dorito’s Flamin’ Hot Nachos taste experience begins with cheese then kicks up the heat creating a different mouth feel as people chew.

City of Industry, Calif.-based Snak King’s Rolled N’ Bold chili and lime-flavored tortilla chips combine the robust blend of red hot chili peppers and a zest of lime.

“We see continued growth in our rolled tortilla product,” said Joe Papiri, vice-president of sales and marketing, Snak King. “It is finding a BFY crowd with some of our new offerings. We have a completely clean chili limon flavor that is doing very well in private label.”

While flavor and health claims remain huge drivers for tortilla chips, tailoring products, packaging and marketing to different channels can result in increased volume and future growth. And all snack makers should consider this.

“While tortilla chips grew in dollar sales by 68%, online only represented 1.9% of omni-channel share,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said. “Channels play a role if producers determine the proper balance of price, size, assortment, flavor and availability to fill a particular need or address a specific snack occasion.”

This article originally appeared in SNAC International's 2019 Official State of the Industry.