Tortilla chips have been on a growth trajectory, and this year is no different. As the pandemic drove consumers to salty snacks, tortilla chips were a big favorite. The category posted an increase of almost $46 million in sales for the period ending March 15, 2020, as compared with 2019, according to IRI retail sales data. Tortilla chips placed among the top three salty snack subcategories for dollar growth during this period.

“We see the continued rise of snack foods occasions, particularly among younger consumers who enjoy more active lifestyles,” said Mark Schreiber, executive vice president and chief customer officer, Utz Quality Foods, Hanover, Pa. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing very strong demand for potato chips, tortilla chips and cheese snacks, among others.” 

Utz Quality Foods is adding a new flavor profile to its Tortiyahs! Superior Dipping Chips lineup. Tortiyahs! Guacamole Tortilla Chips joins other offerings, such as Cantina Style, Restaurant Style Sea Salt and Brazilian Lime. Consumers can sample all flavors and styles in the Tortiyahs! Variety Pack.

“Variety packs have done well because these products can be shared at home, offering a number of options to each household member,” said Simon Gunzburg, research analyst, Euromonitor International. "These packs also decrease the number of trips to the grocery store.”

[Related reading: Healthier formulations, new flavors drive tortilla chip innovation]

Snak King’s El Sabroso Taco Litos are corn tortilla chips in a Rolled N’ Bold format flavored with a bold combination of Spicy Chile N’ Lime. El Sabroso Guacachips seasoned with avocado remain popular with sales increasing by 6.8%, according to IRI.

“We have seen a shift to comfort foods. Our Taco Litos Rolled tortilla chips have been growing,” said Joe Papiri, vice president of sales and marketing, Snak King, City of Industry, Calif.

“Variety packs have done well because these products can be shared at home, offering a number of options to each household member."

Simon Gunzburg, Euromonitor International

Multiple factors contribute to the popularity of tortilla chips. They are perceived to be a healthier snack option made with natural clean label ingredients and delivering a versatile snacking experience with unique flavor profiles influenced by global cuisines.

“Tortilla chips have enjoyed tremendous growth for both flavored and unflavored varieties,” said Matt Colford, director of marketing and strategic selling, North America, Old Dutch Foods, Roseville, Minn. “For flavored tortilla chips this year, it’s all about heat. Hot and spicy flavors continue to resonate with consumers.”

Restaurant-style, bite-size, yellow and white corn have all seen growth on an already large sales base. Additionally, Old Dutch has added blue corn and red and white mixed corn offerings with good success.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a shift toward larger pack sizes more than a product segment transition with the exception of tortilla chips, which was a well-documented favorite for those staying home,” said Jim Herr, senior vice president of marketing and R&D, Herr Foods, Inc., Nottingham, Pa.

[Related reading: The state of the snack industry in 2020]

Grain-free is an emerging trend for the category. The use of cassava flour in grain-free tortilla chips allows for simple formulations with short ingredient lists. Nut-based flours, alternative-plant proteins and vegetables add protein and fiber to tortilla chips boosting functionality. Los Angeles-based Hippeas extended its reach into the snack market in early 2020 with the launch of its gluten-free organic Hippeas Tortilla Chips made with chickpea flour, corn flour and pea protein.

“Consumers are still very flavor focused and know they don’t need to sacrifice taste for nourishment and health claims,” said Valerie Oswalt, executive vice president and president, Campbell Snacks, Camden, NJ. “For example, our new Late July Tiger No Grain tortilla chips have the flavor profile along with the health claim of gluten-free.”

Campbell Snacks’ Late July tortilla chip brand posted double-digit growth, according to IRI. 

Experiential snacking gained popularity among consumers last year, and it’s likely to continue. As people work and eat at home, they will likely want to have unique food in that space with these new flavors. 

This article originally appeared in SNAC International's 2020 Official State of the Industry