The tortilla category continues to experience tremendous growth and a brighter future.

Who doesn’t enjoy the taste of a fresh, warm tortilla? After all, they have become a food staple in American homes. The U.S. tortilla industry has seen growth that’s been influenced by an ever-increasing Hispanic population and the continued popularity of Mexican foods and perception of ethnic cuisine. Tortilla manufacturers are meeting consumer preferences by creating products that offer fresh, healthier alternatives, more variety and new usage options that expand beyond traditional Mexican dishes.

Fastest growing bakery segment

Globally, the bread and baked goods market is expected to grow by approximately $310 billion by late 2015, according to Transparency Market Research (TMR). And tortilla markets have flourished over the past five years, making it the fastest growing segment within the baking industry, according to an IBISWorld report on tortilla production in the U.S. market.

“The tortilla industry has enjoyed a 9 to 10% rate of growth over the past 10 years, due in large part to an increase in the Hispanic population and to the growing popularity of tortillas among non-Hispanic consumers,” said Jim Kabbani, CEO, Tortilla Industry Association (TIA). The group represents tortilla manufacturers, as well as suppliers and distributors around the world, and companies with interests in the rapidly expanding industry.

According to TIA’s “State of the Market Report” at last year’s 2014 Technical Conference, total sales for flour and corn tortillas reached slightly over $11 billion in 2013.

A little history

Often referred to as “Mexico’s everyday bread,” unleavened tortillas are round and flat, resembling a thin pancake. They can be made from either corn cooked in a lime-based solution, corn flour to produce a dough or masa, or wheat flour. The dough is formed into flat disks, and they are traditionally baked on a griddle or comal.

The first tortillas date back 10,000 years before Christ and were made of native corn’s dried kernels, ground into a coarse flour. According to historical accounts recorded by the Franciscan Friar Bernardino de Sahagun (1450-1590), the Aztec diet was based on corn in the form of tortillas and tamales along with plenty of chilies in many varieties. Historically, corn was the only grain used to produce tortillas, but today wheat flour tortillas have a slight edge over corn varieties.

Tortilla manufacturers are broadening their reach by expanding offerings to include low-carb and gluten-free flour tortillas.

“Mexicans have been wrapping a tortilla around meat and eating it going back to the days of the Aztecs,” said Gustavo Arellano during an interview in the Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Arellano is a journalist in Orange County, CA, and author of the book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.

He said that during the Mexican Revolution, “refugees brought the food of their homeland into Southern California around the 1920s, where the first famous tacos were taquitos.”

Many Tex-Mex and Mexican-style restaurants, like Chevy’s, El Guapos and Uncle Julio’s, now cook many of their tortillas in open kitchens in their restaurants in front of customers and patrons.