The tortilla is the fastest-growing item in the U.S. baking industry, with Americans devouring about 90 billion last year, and that doesn't even include chips.
Nationwide, the number of tortilla makers with at least a half-million dollars in sales now totals about 400, up from 350 firms a decade ago as large food makers have acquired small, family operations and more entrepreneurs have jumped into the business.
The Tortilla Industry of America projects that worldwide sales of tortillas will continue to climb another 10 percent each year through 2005.
"Everyone in the world eats some kind of flat bread," said TIA Executive Director Irwin Steinberg. "The Middle East has pita, India has chapati and Norway has lefse, but the fact that tortillas caught on so well in the U.S. may explain why it's catching on elsewhere in the world, too."
Sacramento's Bimbo Bakeries USA factory is one tiny outpost of a huge Mexican corporation, the formidable Grupo Bimbo SA, which controls close to 95 percent of the packaged bread and tortilla market in Mexico. Bimbo's Mexican parent, Grupo Bimbo, S.A., makes more than 700 products under 90 brand names. It also manufactures, sells or distributes in 16 countries.
Bimbo's tortillas, packaged under such brands as Marinela, Gansito and Tia Rosa, are delivered to thousands of corner bodegas throughout the country.
Grupo Bimbo also is the world's third-largest bread maker and has designs on getting even bigger. The Mexican company, known for its acquisitions, is reported to be eyeing Earthgrains, the nation's second-largest bakery, which has a key plant in Sacramento.
Earthgrains officials wouldn't comment on the buyout speculation.
In a quest to widen its reach in the United States, Bimbo (pronounced "Beembo") in 1994 bought La Hacienda on Elder Creek Road, then Sacramento's largest tortilla maker with $12 million in annual sales. The $3.5 million acquisition marked Grupo Bimbo's first entry into California and one of its earliest ventures in the United States.
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