Cleaner labels can increase inefficency, but will ultimately pay off, says La Tortilla Factory innovation chief

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

La Tortilla Factory goes clean label and non-GMO

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California-based La Tortilla Factory is rolling out newly non-GMO verified products with new packaging and a simplified ingredients list.

“A lot of our growth takes place in newer innovative segments in the last six years,”​ chief innovation officer Sam Tamayo told FoodNavigator-USA, referring to the company’s line of tortillas infused with greens (spinach, kale, chard) or less commonly used grains (purple corn).  

He is part of the third generation of Tamayos to be running La Tortilla Factory​, which was founded as a taqueria​ by his grandparents Jose and Mary Tamayo in 1977. After shifting focus exclusively to tortilla production in 1988, Tamayo said the company has steadily been going uphill from there.

Without going into specific numbers and percentages, Tamayo said “we’ve kept pace with industry growth overall.” ​And for the tortilla industry, that’s saying a lot—market data from IBIS World​ published June 2016 revealed that the US tortilla industry revenue is $4bn, experiencing 2.2% annual growth from 2011 to 2016.

Going ‘clean label’

With its wares now stocked in 15,000+ stores, ranging from the giants Walmart and Safeway to specialty stores Whole Foods and Sprouts, Tamayo said that La Tortilla Factory’s success story is rooted in the company’s “history of taking things out or putting things in to improve the value.”

The company has been developing solutions to remove sodium metabisulfite and monodiglyceride, which Tamayo said were ingredients “that most [consumers] don’t really know why they’re in any kind of product, but they’re very common in bakery products.”

“They made everything easier, they created efficiency,” ​Tamayo said about the preservative and emulsifier. “They reduced mix-times, they increased tolerances of dough so your wastes are reduced and your yields are up—they basically made operations a bit simpler.”

But boasting the company’s early plunge into specialty tortillas (it credits itself as maker of the world’s first fat-free tortilla​), Tamayo was confident that removing the two ingredients for efficiency so that consumers can see a ‘cleaner’ label will deliver a good return-on-investment in the end.

“We have​ a long history of having to tweak our equipment, tweak our recipes and our formulas, and train our employees, because [our tortillas] have always been unconventional,” ​he said.

New products rolling out into the nation from California

One central 150,000 square-foot facility with over 300 employees in Sonoma County, CA, produces all the company’s tortillas for distribution nationwide plus Canada and several overseas military outposts.

Launching this month nationwide are tortillas with new non-GMO verification, new package design, and the new simplified ingredients lists.

“[The ingredient removals] really just started, but I anticipate a strong ROI, I think it keeps us relevant, any kind of inefficiency that may have been created, I’m very confident we’ll overcome that,” ​Tamayo said.

 “It’s what the consumer needs and what they want, they look to us to deliver that, that’s why we have such investment in our innovation pipeline.”

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