Chewing gum business goes splat
Wrigleys and rivals are bringing out new flavors and sizes, but demand for their products is bursting.
Gum chewing used to be so much fun. As a kid, you'd save up your coins to buy thick blocks of sugary gum, then spend the afternoon in bubble-blowing competitions with your friends.
But now, gum has become complicated. It's expensive. There are so many flavors to choose from ("kinetic fruit" and "extra dessert delights in orange creme pop," for example). And it's hard to blow big bubbles with thin sticks of sugar-free gum.
Gum sales have been in decline since mid-2010, reports The Wall Street Journal. Last year, sales of chewing gum declined 2.7% to $3.5 billion.
One of the industry's problems might be the wide array of flavors now on checkout racks. Rather than attracting new customers, the choices seem to have cannibalized sales, the Journal notes.
The gum industry isn't going to let its bubble burst without a fight, however.
Wrigley's is trying new retail locations, including a test at Chicago-area Subway sandwich shops, and is testing tiny packets of gum with just six pieces.
The small packs have "gone over well with teens," Casey Keller, president of the North America division of Wrigley, told the Journal. Wrigley is owned by closely held Mars. "We're competing for share of pocket as well as share of wallet" as teens now carry iPhones and other devices in their pockets.
Cost is another issue, as a few coins won't buy a pack of gum these days. The average price of a pack of gum last year was $1.58, up from $1.51 in 2009. These days, a teen has other options for her spending money, ranging from a track on iTunes to an app for her smartphone.
To combat these pressures, the gum industry is getting science on its side. Wrigley research has shown that sugar-free gum can help protect your teeth, and several years ago started the Wrigley Science Institute to fund research into the benefits of chewing gum.
A study in 2011 indicated that gum chewing can help improve memory by getting blood flowing to the head. (Seriously.)
But what about the sheer fun of blowing humongous bubbles? Younger kids have been chewing less sugary bubble gum (gum sales are dominated by sugar-free varieties). But a sugar-free bubble gum variety might be in the works, the Journal adds.
As Wrigley's Keller said, "Every kid remembers blowing bubbles. How do we bring back that fun and make it permissible?"
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None of this is new news. I swear I thought I was reading a fascinating new trend that was discovered in the late 90s.
What do you mean Wrigley's is experimenting with a 6 piece pack. In NY, the 25 cent or 50 cent packages of Big Red, Juicy Fruit, Doublemint, and that one other kind I always forget, have never gone away.
Your story is pretty one-sided, and it appears as if you just condensed information from the WSJ article. Did you even try contacting Mondelez (the maker for Trident, Stride and Dentyne) for statements about their gum products or the industry in general? Trident has used Xylitol (a sugar substitute that has been proven to reduce the bacteria that causes tooth decay), and there are already sugar-free bubble gum varieties out there, including from Wrigley.
Gum sales have stagnated in the past two years, but $3.5 billion dollars is no death knell for the product. The teen and young adult market still loves gum, and the tiny-size packs both Wrigley and Mondelez have are popular among the pocket change crowd. Other than the usual ebb and flow the economy has had, the biggest problem in the gum industry has been in their efforts to launch new brands. The proliferation of new products is head-spinning. The marketing departments need to spend more effort glossing up existing successes than they do bringing out new products (and to stop wasting money putting wigs on eagles).
If the path to ruin is paved with good intentions, then, for gum, the path to lost sales has been paved with adding benefits. Several attempts as regaining customers lately have been from attempting to add benefits, like antioxidants, green tea, and even caffeine to gum. Other than a few exceptions (like xylitol), adding extras to gum results in a bitter aftertaste and few return sales.
Another "benefit" that has questionable value is the addition of "cool" features that have nothing to do with gum. Orbit launched a crowd-sourced package redesign last year, but sales of the Remix gum which sports the new look is lackluster. Stride, on the other hand, went with Shaun White for gum sales (apparently they can only afford one big celebrity endorsement) and some talented-but-largely-unknown artists for its ID packs. While they have seen enough success with these ad campaigns to continue them, there are still plenty of gum packs languishing on convenience store shelves.
These may be falters, but I don't see any of those missteps spelling the end for the gum industry. Gum will still outshine other instant consumables as an easy, low-calorie way to enjoy a sweet treat every day.
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