The sputtering economy has taken a bite out of gum and mints, a category that has seen steady declines since 2010. As of 2012, gum and mints remained a $4.3 billion business, but sales are expected to drop by 1.7% through 2017, according to Mintel, a global consumer research firm.
Some industry observers, such as David Portalatin, convenience store analyst for NPD Group, are more optimistic. “We have always observed a high correlation between cigarette purchase and gum purchase,” he said. “With the overall long-term decline of the cigarette market, there have been concerns about gum. But I think the Millennials are coming to the rescue.”
According to NPD Group data, Millennials—consumers born between the early 1980s and early 2000s—grew up snacking on chewy candy and chewing gum. “They are a gum-chewing generation,” said Portalatin. “We saw increased incidences of gum purchases in the fourth quarter [of 2012] compared to the same period a year ago. I think that we may not see the decline that had been previously expected.”
Flavors for All
To counteract category paralysis, gum manufacturers have been quick to roll out new chewing options, including pellet gum, caffeine-enhanced gum and products with longer-lasting flavors.
According to Jenn Ellek, director of trade, marketing and communications for the National Confectioners Association in Washington, D.C., stagnant gum sales have little to do with current flavor selections, because manufacturers have created products to appeal to every possible market.
“The flavor profiles in the gum category meet every demographic. What we’re seeing is changes in pack sizes to accommodate the needs of the consumer,” she said, referring to value pricing. “Now it’s about 69 cents versus $1.39 or more for a pack of gum. Manufacturers are trying to lure more gum chewers.”
Chris Carter, owner of the Shout & Sack convenience store chain in Vinita, Okla., is glad his store sells a lot of gum. “But there is so much gum that we can’t keep up with all of it. They’re doing too much,” he said. “When they come out with new gum, I tell my candy guy, ‘If you add a new product, take one out. I’m not adding any more space.’”
Dent in Mints
Mints have seen little movement over the past few years.
“When we look at purchase incidents, the trend is relatively flat,” Portalatin said. However, observers are watching the extreme mint category, which may grow along with the generation of current teens and 20-somethings. Those strong flavors “came of age with the Millennials,” he said. “That’s certainly an area of interest.”