Flatbreads rise above slump in traditional bread category

Dive Brief:

  • Manufacturers continue to roll out an array of new flatbread products to meet the rising demand from consumers who want more protein but fewer carbs and less gluten in the type of bread they eat, according to Baking Business.

  • Companies today are offering a wide variety of pizza crusts, wraps, focaccia, pita, naan and tortillas — all bread-like products that easily adapt to different cultural styles of cooking, whether it's Italian, Middle Eastern, Greek, Indian or Hispanic.

  • The increasing number of available flatbread varieties can be used in all kinds of recipes, including pizza, tortillas, with dips, and as sandwich wraps. Some are gluten-free products, while others are made from organic ingredients.

Dive Insight:

Consumers who want to limit carbs but don't want to entirely give up bread appreciate flatbread products because of their adaptability. Flatbreads are gaining market share as people begin to experiment with different types of cuisine. The texture and taste may be different from what they're used to, so flatbreads can bring an exotic change of pace to ho-hum meals.

Flatbreads today come in spicier versions. Tropical Smoothie Cafe debuted a limited-edition Cha Cha Sriracha Flatbread earlier this year. The product has even edged into the functional foods category with the Joseph's Bakery line of flatbreads, which contain ADM's trademarked CardioAid plant sterols. Flatbread options also are showing up much more often on restaurant menus as an interesting and versatile meal accompaniment.

Besides their culinary interest and recipe adaptability, flatbreads offer portability for on-the-go consumers who don't have a lot of time to sit down and eat a meal. They can grab a filled tortilla, pita or flatbread pizza and have a quick and tasty lunch without the time investment or mess of making and eating a sandwich or burger — and possibly consume healthier ingredients with fewer calories while they're at it.

Flatbreads have been on the menu for a while, but George Schenk, founder and owner of American Flatbread Company, is credited with introducing them to the U.S. in 1985. He told PMQ Pizza Magazine in 2014 that the products were initially developed to cook grains and make their nutrition more readily available and flavorful. 

"Many cultures have mixed flour with a fluid — water, milk, broth or even diluted seawater — then kneaded and rolled the dough and put it on a griddle to cook. Flatbreads are a union between nutrition and the joys of the palate," he said. 

The traditional packaged bread market has been in a bit of slump in recent years as consumers become aware of different ways to fit grain-based foods into their diets. According to a July 2016 Mintel report on packaged bread consumption, 66% of surveyed respondents said they like to try new bread varieties, and 57% said they enjoy sampling bread products from other cultures or regions.

"Tortillas and other alternative formats such as pita and flatbreads enjoy a boost from other trends as well as a healthy perception and easy eating for on-the-go lifestyles," noted WORLD-GRAIN.com. "These bread varieties complement ethnic dishes Americans are seeking out and carry a healthy halo of having fewer carbs and calories than conventional sandwich bread."

Big retailers and food companies are well aware of the trend and have been gradually adding flatbreads to their portfolios. Walmart introduced the Crotilla, a cross between a flour tortilla and a croissant, in more than 800 of its stores this past spring, according to Food Business News. Tyson Food Services offers both gluten-free and regular versions of its Bonici flatbread line. As consumers look to watch what they eat while still maintaining their love for bread, sales of flatbread are unlikely to flatline anytime soon.

Top image credit:

Flickr user roland

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