Flatbreads on the Rise

Demand in many corners of the bread industry has been sluggish in recent years, as consumers continue to heed the warnings of the anti-carb and anti-gluten crowds. Flatbreads, however, make up one bread category that’s bucking the trend, with several industry leaders rolling out a host of new products.

Kontos Foods sells more than 50 flatbread products, spanning a range of cultures (Greek, Indian, Hispanic) and uses. What separates Kontos Foods from others is its commitment to traditional methods of baking, says Warren Stoll, the company’s marketing director. “All of our flatbreads start out as a yeast doughball that’s hand-stretched before it goes in the oven. I like to say that every piece of bread we make is like a snowflake — no two are alike.”

The newest flatbread from Paterson, New Jersey-based Kontos Foods is a 9-inch, pre-grilled flatbread that has the appearance of a cooked panini, says. The product is packed two to a bag, and the bag is airtight to extend shelf life. “We’ve sold it at foodservice, in a 10-pack,” Stoll says. “We were getting a lot of requests for it at retail.” The product is currently being sold in selected test markets.

Toronto-based Stonefire makes naan, appetizer-sized flatbread and pizza crust for retail deli and other customers. Brand new products in the naan category include organic naan and Naan Dippers, bite-size pieces of naan (about 20 per bag) packed in a 7-ounce container, says Jim Gibson, vice president of marketing and category development. Naan Dippers are best marketed in refrigerated deli cases near dips, with which they’re a natural fit, Gibson says.

Demand for Stonefire’s naan has been surging, and the company has added many other new products in the past two years, Gibson says. “The conversion rates (for naan) are among the highest I’ve ever seen in my career. People are looking for unique and different products.”

Ridgefield, New Jersey-based Toufayan Bakeries offers a variety of both traditional flatbreads and other products — pitas, wraps, naan, lavash — it also puts in the flatbread category, says Karen Toufayan, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Three varieties make up the traditional category: Wholesome Wheat, Hearty White and Corn and Jalapeno. All are hearth-baked and have 8 or 9 grams of protein and no cholesterol or trans fats.

Toufayan Bakeries’ product mix has changed in recent years to reflect consumers’ different dietary requirements. Toufayan says.

“Over the past five years we have developed a range of ‘healthier’ versions of our traditional flatbreads, including gluten-free wraps in four flavors, organic pitas and wraps and even the only organic naan breads on the market,” she says.

Kontos’s staples have traditionally been white, whole wheat and multi-grain pitas, Stoll says. With retailers expanding their make-your-own-pizza offerings, pizza crust has become a stronger product for the company.

Another rising star is Kontos’s Greek Lifestyle bread, which was introduced in 2013. It offers about twice the protein and half the carbs as other flatbreads in the category, Stoll says. “In some chains it’s our top seller,” Stoll says.

Like Greek yogurt and other Greek-inspired foods, Greek Lifestyle is benefitting from a surge in demand for Mediterranean products, due in large part to their healthfulness, he says. “Greek foods are on the same trajectory Mexican foods were 30 years ago, only it’s a much faster trajectory.”

Kontos has another flatbread product in the test market stage, but the company wants to make sure it’s perfect before announcing it to the world, Stoll says. But he can guarantee it will be a game-changer. “It’s the most innovative, creative bread we’ve come up with to date.”

With most flatbreads in the market, Stoll says, dough is die-cut. That process yields greater uniformity, but other qualities suffer. “It’s flatter and doesn’t have the same fluffiness, taste and texture,” he says.

One thing that separates Stonefire from its competitors, Gibson says, is the company’s commitment to authentic production techniques. Stonefire uses a patented baking technology that replicates the conditions of a traditional tandoor oven, baking naan at temperatures exceeding 900 degrees. That produces a soft and bubbly texture that consumers love, he says.

And Stonefire’s naan isn’t just for dinner, Gibson says. It pairs well with breakfast items and goes great with chili, for example. “Our whole objective is to inspire consumers for all uses, including dayparts,” he says.

Also new for Stonefire is its appetizer flatbread, introduced within the past year, Gibson says. “It took two years to develop to create the perfect bite,” he says.  The product’s rectangular shape is perfect for appetizers or as a base for homemade pizza.

All of Stonefire’s products are being marketed in new packaging, Gibson says. The redesigned packs better highlight the Stonefire brand and feature three to five usage ideas per pack that are heavy on visuals and light on text. That’s designed, Gibson says, for consumers who want ideas but aren’t interested in following a recipe word for word. “We want it to be inspiring, not prescriptive.”

Toufayan Bakeries’ most recent additions to its flatbread product lineup include Organic Sprouted Whole Wheat versions of its popular pitas, wraps and smart pockets; and Organic Naan in traditional and garlic flavors.

A heavy investment in R&D and equipment has helped Toufayan Bakeries develop unique products like its gluten-free line, separating it from its competitors, Toufayan says. Another differentiator, she says, is the company’s commitment to freshness. In addition to its Ridgefield headquarters, Toufayan Bakeries has bakeries in two Florida cities, Orlando and Plant City, to ensure that products get on retail shelves quickly.  

In addition to health-related reasons, flatbreads are gaining market share, Toufayan says, as more consumers expand their horizons and experiment with foods they might not be as familiar with. “We’re seeing a rise in flatbreads because they represent a change of pace to traditional breads and provide consumers with a unique taste and texture experience that is also convenient,” she says. “With the rise of the ‘international’ food experience, thanks to the internet, consumers want to experience diverse foods. Flatbreads provide a way to experience the foods of various ethnicities in a familiar, low-risk format.”