Hispanic influence, non-Hispanic interest

The increasing numbers of Hispanic consumers — and the influence of Hispanic foods and flavors on mainstream American food — significantly impact the success of tortilla sales. The U.S. Hispanic population totaled more than 55 million this year, according to an IRIWorldwide webinar, “Connect and Grow with Hispanic Consumers.” The U.S. Census Bureau projected that number to grow to almost 60 million by 2020, composing more than half of the population.

“One contributing factor as to why tortillas are in hot demand is the continued popularity of Hispanic meals,” said Julie Nargang, vice-president of marketing/innovation, Azteca Foods, Chicago.

Tortillas outsell many traditional American staples like spaghetti or hamburger and hotdog buns, and all other fresh types of rolls, buns, croissants and bagels, according to “Hispanic Foods and Beverages in the U.S. 5th Edition, 2012,” a report by Packaged Facts. Overall, the U.S. market for Hispanic foods and beverages surpassed $8 billion in 2012, and it’s expected to reach $11 billion in 2017.

“Mexican food offers a more healthy option to the non-Hispanic buyer with the same fast and convenient service as more traditional segments,” said Alex Nin, general manager, Tortillas Inc., Las Vegas. “Don’t forget that Mexican food also offers more variety and bold flavors. People are getting tired of burgers and fries.”

Tortillas are not just for traditional Hispanic foods anymore.

Hispanic foods and beverages appeal to a wide variety of consumers, not only to the growing Hispanic population but also to multicultural consumers and foodies, according to David Sprinkle, research director and publisher of the Packaged Facts report.

“Non-Hispanic consumers perceive that tortillas are a healthier alternative to sandwich bread,” Mr. Kabbani said. “If you are craving a McDonald’s hamburger, you can now have it wrapped in a tortilla.”

Tortillas are not just for traditional Hispanic foods anymore. “They have become a staple in family menu planning due to their versatility, being used in both Hispanic and non-Hispanic meals,” Ms. Nargang said.

Hispanic consumers exercise greater buying power than any minority ethnic group, according to IRIWorldwide. This year Hispanic consumers wielded 53% of the purchasing power among consumers, amounting to $1.5 trillion, due to larger families and younger wage earners in their prime earning years. Almost 73% of those surveyed in the Packaged Facts report acknowledged they use Mexican foods and ingredients; however, usage rates among Hispanics were a whopping 84%.

Profitable industry

Tortillas may be a “food delivery vehicle” for consumers, but TIA describes them as a “results delivery vehicle” for the 381 tortilla businesses in the U.S. tortilla industry today.

In the 52 weeks ending June 14, dollar sales in the fresh hard/soft tortillas/taco kits category increased nearly 6% to $2.28 billion over the prior 52-week period, while unit sales rose 4.6% to more than $1 billion, according to IRI. Setting the pace was Mission Foods, Inc., Dallas, a division of Gruma S.A.B. de C.V., Monterrey, Mexico. Mission Foods had dollar sales of $6.95 million, up almost 12% from a year ago, while unit sales increased nearly 11%, according to IRI. Joining Mission Foods and Gruma in the Top Five producing vendors were General Mills, Minneapolis, and Ole Mexican Foods Inc., Norcross, GA.

According to IRI, Santa Rosa-based La Tortilla Factory brands were in the Top 20 per the latest 52-week period. La Tortilla Factory hard/soft tortillas/taco kits sales increased more than 37% to more than $32 million, and the company’s Smart & Delicious hard/soft tortillas/taco kits posted dollar sales of $14.7 million.

Chicago-based Azteca Foods/Baja Trading Inc. refrigerated tortillas topped other vendors in the refrigerated tortilla category with dollar sales of $28.3 million, as reported by IRI.