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RISMEDIA, October 13, 2010—(MCT)—Want to manage your weight, strengthen and whiten your teeth, increase your vitamin intake? Or are you just bored out of your mind? Have some gum. Candy manufacturers are rolling out gums for all occasions, to entice chewers to chew more frequently. Some of the gums seem to have been pulled from science fiction, or at least Willy Wonka’s factory.

Kraft Foods’ Stride Shift, for instance, changes flavor while you’re chewing. Trident Vitality, launching early next year, contains vitamin C for those who can’t be bothered to eat fruit. Wrigley’s Extra Dessert Delights, meanwhile, give dieters a reason to pass on cake, with flavors like chocolate mint chip and Key lime pie.

“Gum is the new delivery system for benefits, whether it’s breath-freshening or teeth-cleaning, relaxation or just excitement because of new, unusual or interesting flavors,” said Lynn Dornblaser, director of CPG insight at Mintel International, a global consumer, product and market research firm.

With gums like Extra Dessert Delights and Trident Vitality queued for early 2011, Kraft and Wrigley appear to be stepping up their game: in effect, declaring a gum war. After all, the mergers of Mars and Wrigley and then Kraft and Cadbury have created global gum and confectionary giants. Together, the two big players account for nearly 65% of the world’s gum sales, according to Euromonitor.

Gum as a whole has been growing at a rapid clip over the past decade, with global sales up 37% since 2001, according to Euromonitor. Total sales are expected to top $24 billion this year.

But sugar-free gum sales increases have been slowing at home over the past 12-18 months. According to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm, sugar-free gum sales increased 3% to $2.3 billion for the year ending September 5, compared with a 4% increase during the 2009 calendar year.

Candy manufacturers blame the recession, which reduced foot traffic at gas stations and at grocery and convenience stores. There have also been indications that shoppers in checkout lines became less willing to spend $1.39 or $1.49 for a pack of brand-name gum.

Ann Hanson, executive director of product management at the NPD Group, a consumer and retail market research firm, pointed to another possibility: saturation in the U.S. market. “It’s possible that either you’re a gum chewer or you’re not, and how much gum can you chew in a typical day?” she said. “Gum manufacturers do have to get creative because consumers are looking for what’s new and what’s different, and as the market becomes saturated, it’s about stealing share from each other.”

That’s why gum brands need to multitask to keep growing the category, especially in the United States, which leads the world in per capita gum consumption.

“Innovation we bring to the category” helps sell Kraft’s brands during “the impulse moment” at cash registers, said Jim Cali, the company’s senior vice president and global gum and candy category team leader. The more exciting the gum or the more benefits the gum may offer, he said, helps “stimulate more occasions” for consumers to use the product.

For instance, Stride Shift, which changes flavor from fruit to mint, is appealing to young adults looking for excitement. Trident Layers, on the other hand, is designed as an indulgence, particularly for young women looking for an afternoon break from the monotony of work. The gum also has a bright stripe through the center, to connote the combination of fruit flavors, such as strawberry and citrus.

Mary Kay Haben, president of Wrigley North America, noted that packaging has changed to make sizes larger, and designed to be less likely to spill in a woman’s purse. Popular brands have moved from sugar-sweetened to sugar-free, and the leaders aren’t built around one flavor, like Big Red and Juicy Fruit, but an occasion, benefit or state of mind. From there, flavors can be added or taken away and lines extended more easily.

Haben pointed to Wrigley’s successful launches of Orbit and 5 brands, both in the past decade. Orbit, with annual sales above $350 million in the U.S. alone, has been the country’s top-selling gum since 2005. Launched in 2007, 5 will surpass $500 million in global sales for 2010 and is now available in 18 countries. Orbit became part of the popular culture with its edgy advertising promoting its ability to clean consumers’ mouths. Its slick packaging caught on industry-wide.

But Orbit’s sales have slipped the past two years, Haben said, because it became less relevant with young consumers. That’s important because American gum consumption is driven by young adults.

Wrigley’s Haben defines an “older gum chewer” as being about 30 years old. For that reason, one of her charges is to develop products that keep people chewing into middle age and older.

For example, Orbit has released a canister of pellet gums that can be stamped with an insignia in honor of a cause or event sponsorship. A package of bubblemint-flavored Orbit White features pink ribbons in honor of breast cancer awareness for a limited time.

Mintel’s Dornblaser expects Kraft and Wrigley to develop products that can keep millennials chewing past 30, and woo “older” people as well. One Kraft example is Trident Vitality, which contains vitamin C, rolling out during the first quarter of 2011.

As a result of the mergers, gum-makers can tap greater expertise in flavors from elsewhere in their corporations, Dornblaser said. “With both companies now having a pretty broad position in gum and candy, one would think we might see more overlap of flavors, sharing of knowledge from one part of the business to another,” she said. “After all, today’s new flavors, like Orbit tropical remix, are more likely to appeal to young people.”

She noted that Japan’s gum market offers a variety of benefits to older chewers, such as added collagen, and more sophisticated flavors like pomegranate.

Both companies are looking globally for expansion. Mexico isn’t far behind the U.S. in consumption. Japan, Brazil and especially China are seen as major growth opportunities.

The mergers have also made the companies bigger forces at retail, with a variety of chocolate, candy and gum products to sell that can force competitors to less desirable locations.

Kraft, which is stronger in supermarkets, listed Cadbury’s retail relationships in emerging markets as a big reason for acquiring the company. That’s especially important in developing markets like India and Brazil, where the bulk of gum and confectionary sales are at corner shops and kiosks.

“If you take over someone with a strong distribution network in emerging regions like Asia Pacific or Latin America, half your work is done,” said Francisco Redruello, an analyst with Euromonitor.

While Wrigley maintains the lead in gum globally, Kraft is the world’s largest manufacturer of chocolate and candy. It’s also gaining on Mars’ Wrigley in gum sales. According to Euromonitor data, Cadbury has been gaining share as Wrigley has been losing it since 2007. At the end of 2009, Mars had 33.7% of global gum business to Cadbury’s 29.2%.

And while Kraft and Mars are now within four share points of global gum domination, Euromonitor’s Redruello underscored that the difference amounts to about $1 billion in sales. So the gap is unlikely to be closed in a couple of years, if ever.

In the meantime, dentists continue to serve as key ambassadors for sugar-free gum.

NPD’s Hanson said that her dentist reminds her on every visit that her children should be chewing about two pieces of sugar-free gum each day. “I wonder how many other dentists out there are saying that,” she said.

“Sugar-free gum that contains xylitol has actually been shown to reduce cavity and plaque development when chewed after meals and snacks,” Geeta Maker-Clark, a family physician with Northshore University HealthSystem, wrote in an e-mail. “It does this by stimulating saliva, which flushes out the cavity-causing bacteria.”

Dental-based advertising, originated by Trident in the 1960s, is widely credited with growing the sugar-free gum category. Figure skater Peggy Fleming was a popular spokeswoman in the 1980s.

Trident is the world’s best-selling sugar-free gum, by more than two share points, with 11.5% of the market in 2009. The brand has been No. 1 since 2005 and steadily gaining share since at least 2003. Orbit is second, with a 9.3% share in 2009, down from 10.3% in 2008.

Maker-Clark said gum can also help people trying to stop smoking. She encourages moderation, not just to save the chewing muscles, but because some people are sensitive to xylitol, she said, “and can get diarrhea from it.”

Social media has also proven fruitful. Wrigley has been moving its advertising dollars into social media and other nontraditional efforts. Haben said Wrigley launched 5 React by sending 100,000 samples to Facebook fans in black envelopes with a pair of 3-D glasses. They were directed online for a “personalized sensory experience,” a program that put participants in a “Battlestar Galactica”-like setting, and their own Facebook pictures.

Wrigley’s longtime advertising agency is Energy BBDO Chicago. The agency was founded in 1932 on a promise to the Wrigleys of arranging ad placement on newspapers’ comic pages. The agency later developed campaigns like “Taste is Gonna Move You,” for Juicy Fruit, and “Little Longer” for Big Red.

(c) 2010, Chicago Tribune.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.