While sales dollars are down, study shows customers continue to purchase gum for numerous reasons, from breath freshening to stress relief.
By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.
The gum category has faced an ongoing sales decline since 2010. In 2012, gum saw monthly sales of $954 at convenience stores, with a monthly gross profit of $460, and a gross margin of 48.2%, according to NACS State of the Industry (SOI) data released last month.
Gum accounted for 21.3% of candy syndicated sales at convenience stores, down 3.7% from 2011, according to SOI data. Meanwhile, candy rolls, mints and drops saw monthly sales of $296, with a monthly gross profit of $148, and a gross margin of 49.9%. Rolls, mints and drops combined accounted for 6.6% of c-store candy sales, up 8% year over year, the report said.
Chicago-based research firm Mintel, has painted a gloomy forecast for gum over the next four years, expecting sales to continue to decline 1.7% through 2017. Still, gum remains a $4.3 billion business. With marketing and positioning based around gum chewing occasions, retailers can drive sales in the category.
A Fresh Look
The Convenience Consumer Insights Panel (cciPanel), a mobile research panel from Management Science Associates (MSA) and Paradigm Sample, in partnership with Convenience Store Decisions, examined the behaviors and attitudes of convenience store gum and mint buyers from March 18-22, 2013. Respondents were balanced by U.S. regions and results included responses from 496 adults ages 18 and older.
The study found that eight in 10 c-store gum buyers cited “freshen breath” as their motivation for chewing gum, but knowledge of other gum chewing functions and occasions are also assisting retailers in drawing customers to the category.
Some 81% of customers ages 18-34 and 88% of customers ages 35 and over cited “freshen breath” as their main reason for purchasing gum. A whopping 59% of Millennials listed gum as their top choice to immediately freshen breath, ahead of toothpaste (15%), mints (11%), breath strips (5%) mouthwash (5%), breath spray (3%) and breath drops (2%).
Meanwhile an even greater 68% of c-store customers ages 35 and over selected gum as their breath freshener of choice.
Given customer propensity to reach for gum to freshen breath, MSA recommended positioning gum in high traffic areas of the convenience store, and in a display with other breath freshening products to remind customers of this functional benefit of gum.
Why They Chew
While fresh breath took the lead among gum chewer motivation, customers listed numerous other reasons that influenced their gum purchase decision. Desiring flavor or taste took the No. 2 slot, with 64% of 18-34 year olds and 67% of customers 35 and older choosing to chew because of the flavor. Other factors included stress reduction, gum’s oral health benefits, and staying alert and focused. Others chewed in place of snacking to manage calories, and some reach for gum during times when they can’t smoke or chew tobacco.
Millennials Chewing More
MSA found that 32% of gum buyers buy gum five or more times in a typical month. Compared to last year, 31% are buying more gum. Millennials are driving that growth, as they purchase gum more frequently than older generations and a greater portion have upped their purchases compared to a year ago.
So while gum sales overall may be down according to SOI data, gum customers remain loyal in terms of store visits giving convenience store operators an opportunity to sell them additional items, such as snacks and foodservice.
Customers Favor Mint Gum
Mint, including spearmint and peppermint, overwhelmingly ranks as the gum flavor of choice for customers, with 63% of customers ages 18-34 and 69% of customers 35 and over rating it as their favorite.
Some 28% of 18-34 year-olds and 20% of customers 35 and older liked single fruit and multi-fruit gums, while 9% of 18-34 year olds and 11% customers 35 and older voted for cinnamon.
Gum Purchase Influences
The brand of choice for customers is influenced by a number of factors, lead by the personal recommendations of friends, followed by social media sharing sites, brand Websites and print advertising.
Among customers aged 18-34 years, 28% listed social media as an influencer in their gum purchasing habits compared to 19% of customers ages 35 and above.
Adding Functional Appeal to Gum and Mints
Star Stop Convenience Stores, with 68 locations in Austin and Houston, Texas, has maintained slow, steady gum sales, with customers mostly gravitating toward new products.
In two of its stores, the chain is testing Desert Labs’ Snack Less chewing gum, the first in a new series of products powered by Hoodia parviflora. Hoodia has long been linked to appetite control, creating the same effect on the brain’s hunger regulating mechanism as eating a full meal, but without the calories.
Hoodia parviflora marks the first Hoodia product to gain generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Grown and marketed by Desert Labs, it gives consumers and supplement manufacturers access to the only safe Hoodia on the market. The Snack Less gum aims to reach dieters looking to maintain control over their food cravings. Because the gum has only been on store shelves a couple months, it’s too soon to tell if customers response has been positive.
But with 30% of gum chewers ages 18-34 and 33% of chewers 35 and older buying gum with the intention of consuming “fewer calories than other snacks,” the gum-as-appetite-suppressant innovation has the opportunity to meet a need. It at least shows the way gum manufacturers are looking to add functional benefits to gum to increase the product’s appeal.
Not to be left behind, mints manufacturers are also looking to boost sales with functional benefits. Miracle Mint, for example, boasts energy boosting, appetite curbing potential, as well as the ability to enhance focus and alertness.