The push for healthier lifestyles hasn’t caused consumers to walk away from breads, but it has caused many of them to look for other options.
“One of the trends that we are experiencing is the trend towards ‘healthier’ options, be they low-carb, gluten-free options, or sprouted grains,” says Karen Toufayan, vice president of marketing and sales for Ridgefield, New Jersey-based Toufayan Bakery, which offers flatbreads, pitas, lavash, naan and more.
Paterson, New Jersey-based Kontos Foods has gone a step further, doubling down on the better-for-you benefits of flatbreads. The company features its line of Greek Lifestyle flatbreads, which was designed to call to mind the benefits of Greek yogurt — higher protein, lower carbs, fewer calories.
“We’ve gotten creative with this lower-carb, higher-protein product,” says Warren Stoll, marketing and business development manager for Kontos. “Greek food is all about protein and health. These have twice the protein of the average flatbread and half the carbohydrates. More and more, those are the things people keep asking us about.”
Ardent Mills, based in Denver, says consumers have a range of dietary concerns and preferences when it comes to healthful eating, and these demands are showing up in the choices for all food, not just traditional health food.
In pizza and flatbread, that can mean whole, mixed and gluten-free grains can add nutrient density, satiety, higher protein and more fiber to dough formulations. These grains also bring culinary interest to the bread with varied flavors, textures and colors.
Consumers aren’t settling for just normal deli sandwiches anymore. A bigger, more diverse, offering is necessary to bring in larger lunch crowds.
“Flatbreads like lavash, naan and pita are so hot right now because people want to eat bread with a story, and these ancient breads have a cultural connection baked in,” says Inanna Eshoo, head of foodservice for Gilroy, California-based California Lavash. “The authentic connection to ancient cultures also satisfies today’s appetite for authentic foods. And then there’s the flexibility. Flatbreads can fit into just about any lifestyle and diet.”
Toufayan, which helped popularize pita in the U.S., has responded to these trends by diversifying its flatbread offerings.
“We’ve seen a big desire to experience new and different types of flatbreads,” Toufayan says. “Thus, the growing popularity of products like naan with its Indian heritage. These trends help elevate traditional flatbreads beyond just a carrier of different foods.”
Stoll says his experience in the food industry has shown that consumers are continually demanding more ethnic options. Take Mexican food for example, he says. Go back a few decades and a to get a Mexican meal, you had to go to an authentic Mexican restaurant. Choices were limited in most places.
Today, QSRs like Chipotle and Moe’s Southwest Grill offer Mexican-inspired food in countless locations.
“Today there are so many more choices from a franchise standpoint, and the Greek and Mediterranean foods are on that same trajectory, just on a delated timeline,” Stoll says. “We now have franchise outlets that are offering far more Greek foods than anybody has ever seen. And I don’t expect that to really taper off.
“Ethnic foods in general have been growing by leaps and bounds. As consumers become more and more global, they become exposed to all of these different cultures and their foods. And the Mediterranean culture, particularly flatbreads within that, everybody is now more and more aware of it. They’ve seen it and tasted it as they’ve travelled and it’s becoming more and more common.”
Flatbreads lend themselves perfectly to today’s time-starved consumers. Depending on the variety, flatbreads can be transformed into wraps, sandwiches, small pizzas and more.
Retailers are recognizing that they need to provide meal solutions to their multi-tasking, time-pressed customers,” Toufayan says. “Thus, the more savvy retailers are cross-merchandising their flatbreads with cheeses and meats to provide healthy, convenient meal solutions that answer the consumer’s need for a quick, exciting meal for their family.”
Stoll agrees: “One of the trends consumers have continued to grow over the past few years is what I simply call handheld or on-the-go,” he says. “Sandwiches that come in a box or have a wrapper around them, that people can eat in their car just sitting outside the store. They’re more and more prevalent no matter where you go.”
Kontos has upped the convenience game by helping retailers created their own “panini” sandwiches without the need of a panini press. Stoll says he notices a rise in retailers offering prepared panini sandwiches that are a hit with busy lunchtime shoppers.
“We have a fair amount of our breads where we put the grill marks on there before they’re sold. We do that because there are establishments that would like to offer a panini, but a panini press is what typically makes those lines and you can usually just press one sandwich at a time.,” he says. “It takes up room and it’s an added piece of equipment that many places don’t need. So we put the grill marks on the bread and now all you have to do is put it on a hot grill and press it and you have a panini sandwich without a panini grill.”