The sale of artisan flatbreads in the deli department has quickly accelerated over the last decade as consumers are increasingly searching out special eating experiences, versatility and healthy eating without giving up flavor, said Liz Rayo, senior vice president of marketing and innovation at Indianapolis-based CraftMark Bakery.
Consumers are looking for new eating experiences which has been especially enhanced in the times brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of adult consumers grabbing a bite at an eatery close to the workplace or children eating lunch in the school cafeteria, consumers are making lunch for themselves and their families at home.
“Consumers are telling us that they’re kind of getting tired of the same old sandwich and the same old bread over time,” Rayo said. “What we know about flatbreads is they’re a specialty carrier and they add a special eating experience. So, we are seeing growth of the category both in retail and foodservice because of that desire for something different.”
Ready-to-eat flatbreads also have an advantage during the times of COVID-19, because a flatbread isn’t an item that most people can make well at home, pointed out CraftMark’s senior vice president of R&D and innovation,, Jim Little.
“While a lot of people are doing home baking, it’s almost impossible to make a good flatbread at home,” Little said. “You need a really hot, really fast oven that the average at-home baker is not going to have access to. So, the whole idea of having something they can just grab off the shelf that’s also distinctive, appealing and different, I think that’s where even with some of the trends changing due to the crisis, flatbread is still going to be in quite a bit of demand.”
Versatile with a healthy appeal
Flatbreads also come with the perception of a lighter and healthier eating experience. While a flatbread may not necessarily have a lower fat content or be lower in carbohydrates, there is a consumer perception that flatbreads are healthier than other carb-heavy products like bread and rolls. Rayo pointed out that often consumers feel like they’re getting less bread with more taste and flavor.
Various flatbread makers are also seeing increased success in their “healthy” flatbreads:
- Kontos Greek Lifestyle Flatbread: this flatbread from Paterson, NJ-based Kontos Foods has more protein and less carbohydrates, sugar and calories than most flatbreads.
- Toufayan Organic Sprouted Whole Wheat: Ridgefield, NJ-based Toufayan Bakeries offers organic, whole wheat pitas, wraps and smart pockets, all with zero fat.
On top of the healthy perception, one of the greatest benefits to the flatbread category is its versatility, Rayo said. There are endless possibilities of ways for consumers to use a flatbread.
“Flatbreads are extremely versatile so it allows consumers to do different things with them at home whether it be for a sandwich carrier, a wrap or a pizza, something you can even top, something you can season, toast, cut it up or serve with soups and salads,” Rayo said. “Consumers will literally put anything and everything in a flatbread and wrap it up. It gives the consumer a lot of creativity.”
Rayo noted that she’s seen consumers put anything and everything in a flatbread from peanut butter and bananas in a grilled flatbread to different types of seasoned chicken, and flavors ranging from ethnic Middle Eastern Flavors to traditional American flavors.
Dave Burtraw, CraftMark’s vice president of retail sales, noted that the flexibility of the category has made it easy to connect flatbreads to the other products in the deli through cross-merchandising — whether that be through placing flatbreads in a knee-knocker display right by the deli meat and cheese counter or showcasing it with specific products like pepperoni and mozzarella that consumers could then use to make a flatbread pizza.
“In the last 10 years there has been a departmental transition of the flatbread from the center aisle self-standing area to a knee-knocker deli area connected to the meat and the cheese because that’s primarily where customers are going to go,” Burtraw said. “Flatbreads are being deli oriented because they go so well with cheeses and meats and things like that.”
Burtraw highlighted that there’s not one type of cheese or protein that consumers are more consistently using with flatbreads because they are using them in so many creative ways with countless combinations of meat, cheeses and other flavors.
There’s opportunity for flatbreads in deli prepared too
Warren Stoll, marketing director of Kontos Foods, has noted that consumers have an increased interest in expanded offerings from supermarket made-to-order counters and grab-n-go stations. The versatility of flatbreads makes it easy for supermarket delis to incorporate new paninis and wraps that Stoll said go well with on-the-go trends that make handheld pre-prepared food centered around the flatbread an easy sell.
Stoll has observed that paninis are popular with consumers, but the biggest challenge some grocery deli counters face is not being equipped with a panini press.
“It’s a machine that does one item at a time and you have to wait while it heats up and cooks each item you put on there separately,” Stoll said. “So, we offer a range of flatbreads that already have the grill marks on the bread. Therefore you really just need to put on the ingredients and put that on a community hot surface and then you put a plate or other weight on top and it will heat up just like a panini press would do and the grill lines are there.”
Kontos offers pre-grilled panini flatbreads in 6-, 7- and 8-inch round breads and in an oval flatbread.
Newest to the Kontos flatbread line, Stoll said, is the Gordita Flatbread, a Latino flatbread that can be used for deli-prepared tacos, burritos, quesadillas, empanadas or marketed on its own.
Leverage the cultural variations of flatbread
A significant factor in flatbread’s versatility is the different variations of flatbreads from all around the world. In fact, the introduction of new cultures and cuisines in the United States has largely driven the popularity of flatbreads, said Karen Toufayan,, vice president of sales at Toufayan Bakeries.
“Flatbreads [in the United States] were originally kind of like the Greek flatbreads, and then you saw the introduction of the naan flatbread—different cultures have different takes on the flatbread—so you have the naan bread and the tandoori, so that's a new trend,” Toufayan said.
The first ethnic flatbread Toufayan introduced on top if its traditional pita bread was naan, a soft and pillowy flatbread that originates from Asia. Toufayan’s naan line comes in original and garlic varieties. Toufayan said the garlic naan has become the company’s best seller.
Toufayan’s ethic flatbread lines also include:
- Lavash-plus: a thin and pliable flatbread with 6 grams of protein, 0 grams of trans fat and 0 mg of cholesterol. Lavash is ideal for pinwheels or a crisp thin-pizza crust.
- Pita: naturally cholesterol and trans fat free, Toufayan’s pitas are available in classic white, low carb, multi-grain, organic sprouted whole wheat, sweet onion and whole wheat flavors. The pitas can be filled with meats, salads or cheese and are good for tacos, sloppy joes, fajitas and more.
- Tandoori Flatbread: all-natural and non-GMO, the tandoori flatbread comes in original, garlic and whole wheat flavors. Tandoori is ideal for a pizza base or paired with dips, meats, fish, vegetables and cheeses.
- Tortilla: available in white and whole wheat and perfect for tacos, fajitas and burritos
Burtraw pointed out that in 2010, many consumers in the United States didn’t even know what a naan flatbread was, but now consumers are recognizing flatbreads from all around the world as interest in learning about and tasting new ethnic foods has increased. He asserted that the ethnic trend has grown rapidly as an increased number of cultures and ethnic populations are growing in the United States.
Deciding what types of flatbreads to carry in individual deli departments largely depends on the demographics of a grocer’s location, noted Burtraw.
“What a grocer in California is going to have on their knee-knockers isn’t necessarily what Indianapolis is going to have,” he said. Demographics are an important factor in ensuring that a grocer’s flatbreads are authentic to its customer base.
The best flatbread to have in stock, though, Little added, is a plain variation.
“Consumers tend to gravitate toward a plain flatbread that has good flavor,” Little added. “The reason why it’s so popular is because it’s universal, you can really do anything with it, whereas if something has a really intense flavor some are going to like it but it will be a bit more polarizing.”