Tortillas and flatbreads have benefitted from growing interest in global cuisines, the popularity of Mexican foods, and the persistent perception of a healthy halo. However, it is the ripple effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that will significantly increase sales of bakery items as consumers cook and eat at home.

“Value and flexibility will drive shopping trends creating opportunity for tortillas and flatbreads that can be used as a vehicle for countless recipes and eaten at all times of day,” said Kara Nielsen, director, Food & Drink, WGSN, a global trend forecasting company. “They are good pantry staples, offering options made with a variety of ingredients and strong global origins.”

In the 52 weeks ending Nov. 20, 2020, sales for tortillas jumped more than 22% to $2.7 billion, outpacing the overall bakery aisle, which grew 9.4%, according to IRI. Though a smaller subcategory, pita/flatbreads also topped overall bakery growth rate with 13.5% increase.

“Grocery retail and the bakery aisle in general continue to have strong growth as the pandemic rages on,” said Tim Grzebinski, client insights principal for dairy and bakery, IRI. “Tortillas and flatbreads are outperforming the entire bakery aisle as compared with bread, English muffins and bakery snacks, both during the height of pandemic and most recently.” Though the tortilla category is larger and posted stronger growth, the pandemic has influenced consumer behaviors boosting growth for the flatbread category by bolstering the number of new buyers.

More than 60% of the dollar growth in the latest period was due to new buyers for pita/flatbreads with roughly 1.8 million new consumers entering the category, as compared with about 4 million new buyers for tortillas, according to the IRI data.

While health and wellness have played a role in both categories, heightened usage occasions seem to be a key driver for flatbreads. At the end of the day, it will be important for producers of both categories to understand their new buyers to repeat purchases even when the pandemic subsides, Mr. Grzebinski observed.

Naan has experienced explosive expansion, posting 20% growth rates for the past three years. American consumers discovered the distinctive nature of the product, and they use it to elevate everyday meals and snacks.

“Stonefire [branded] products have driven growth with unique taste and texture that replicates authentic naan,” said Jim Gibson, vice president of marketing at FGF Brands, Toronto. “The segment has evolved to conveniently meet the alternative usages by expanding beyond the traditional shape used as a tear-and-share bread for soups and sauces, including Mini Naan and bite-size naan, like Stonefire Naan Dippers.”

This article is an excerpt from the February 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on tortillas & flatbreads, click here.