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Tortillas sold out in U.S. supermarkets at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic

Tortillas have become the second-most purchased bread product in the country. Will manufacturers be able to cope with the soaring demand for this basic product…

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Tortillas are the new toilet paper for millions of Hispanic families in the United States, especially since the state of emergency forced the closure of restaurants starting late last month. The tortillas and flour that accompany many traditional recipes have become indispensable in homes. 

"Tortilla and maseca (corn flour) purchases have increased three to four times," Guillermo Navarro, manager of the Mi Tierra Latino market in Virginia, told Efe.

Marlene Camacho, manager of La Guadalupana, in Delaware, has also seen an increase in product's sales and is concerned "because suppliers have reported that wholesale stores have run out."

"We were selling 50-pound bags of maseca, and there was a big demand," added the businesswoman, whose clients are mostly Guatemalans. 

"If they don't have meat, make their own tortillas or their tamales with beans and cheese," she said. "And now that the children are not in school, they are more likely to eat at home.

Tortillas and coronavirus

Consumption has grown so much that, according to IBISWorld, income from the tortilla sector will grow at an average annual rate of 4.1% to reach a value of $2.8 million in 2020. The good financial forecasts that are due in part to the affordable price of the food and its low fat content, which has become the second most popular bread product in the country. 

However, producers fear they will not be able to meet the booming demand and that shortages will occur, and are hiring extra employees to increase their production.

In that vein, the La Tortilla factory in California has hired 20 additional workers in the last two weeks, but said it is difficult for them to find more hands that want to get into flour.

To help supermarkets more effectively replenish the tortilla supply and support manufacturers, the Tortilla Industry Association (TIA) has initiated communications with its members across the country to learn about their needs and create working links in any area of the supply chain. 

"In these unusual times, with products like tortillas flying off store shelves in many areas, some member producers of the Tortilla Industry Association are struggling to keep up with demand," TIA Executive Director Jim Kabbani said in a statement.

According to the association, total tortilla sales in the United States last year reached $16 billion, reflecting the growing interest of American consumers in the product.

"High demand continues, and we are now seeing a shortage of tortillas on store shelves due to the coronavirus crisis," he concluded.
 

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