Flavors might be capturing consumer attention, but retailers find tried-and-true mint products are driving interest in the gum and mints category.
By Erin Rigik, Senior Editor
After several years of declining sales, gum saw renewed consumer interest and an uptick in sales in 2015. But analysts continue to predict that gum could face a rough road maintaining consumer interest over the next four years. Meanwhile, mints have benefited from gum’s decline as more customers reach for breath fresheners, but will that change if gum continues to rebound?
In a report entitled “Gum, Mints and Breath Fresheners US, September 2015,” Chicago-based research firm Mintel Group Ltd stated that the top reasons people purchase gum, mints and breath fresheners is to freshen their breath, followed by the desire to try a new flavor, to prevent eating and finally to relieve stress.
Mintel suggested opportunity could lie in creating stronger breath- and mouth-freshening products, as well as marketing programs that let customers know about the effectiveness of these attributes.
Mintel further found that flavor is more important than brand or cost. Long-lasting flavor was the most-desired product attribute to buyers of gum, mints and breath fresheners, according to the report. Mintel also indicated that consumers are interested in flavor innovation and increased seasonal flavors could help drive sales of gum. Mintel noted that seasonal flavor innovation would “entice more than a quarter of gum and mint purchasers to buy more products.”
Manufacturers have been responding with seasonal gum and mints varieties in exciting flavor combinations that fit each season.
The report included that sales of sugarless gum declined 16.7% from 2010-2014 and at the time of the report, dollar sales were projected to be flat in 2015. Moreover sales were expected to fall 15% from 2016-2020. Comparably, sales of regular gum fell 11.4% from 2010-14, and was expected to grow 1.6% in 2015. Still, Mintel found that regular gum sales are anticipated to fall 11.3% between 2016-2020.
Meanwhile, Mintel reported that mint and breath freshener sales are on the rise. According to the same report, sales of mints grew 7.2% between 2010-14 and are expected to increase 25.4% between 2015-20, while sales of breath fresheners rose 26.4% between 2010-14 and are predicted to spike 28.8% between 2015-20.
GUM BOUNCES BACK
So how did gum and mints actually fare at the end of 2015?
The gum category saw sales of $3.18 billion for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 27, 2015 at convenience stores and multi-outlets combined, according to IRI data, an increase of 1.1% compared to the previous year.
Sugarless gum saw dollar sales of $2.66 billion for the same period, also up 1.1%. Regular gum saw dollar sales rise 0.7% to $527 million.
Breath fresheners saw dollar sales of $800 million, an 8.2% increase. Plain mints saw dollar sales rise 8.4% to $398 million, according to IRI data for the same period.
Combined, candy and gum increased 5.6% in the convenience channel for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 27, 2015, according to IRI data—higher than 3.1% reported in food stores, a 2.2% increase for mass merchandisers and 1% increase in drug stores.
Jenn Ellek, senior director of trade marketing and communication for the National Confectioners Association told Convenience Store Decisions early this year that the gum segment is growing in terms of new item sales, from over $50 million in new items sales over the past two years to nearly $5 million in new items in 2015.
REVIVAL IN RETAIL
Some convenience store retailers are seeing the revival of gum sales in their stores as well. Meghann Eaton, category specialist at VERC Enterprises Inc., has seen evidence of gum sales rebounding at the Duxbury, Mass.-based chain.
“Since January gum sales have been doing well,” Eaton said. “Gum was on a downward spiral for us for the past few years.”
But as of April, gum sales were up 15% year-to-date at VERC’s 24 convenience store locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
While flavor innovation is said to be a huge customer demand. Eaton found that it’s the traditional mint flavors that are actually driving gum sales at the c-store chain.
“The fruity flavors have really been pushed aside this year,” Eaton said. “Customers are sticking with the basic mint flavors. Our top 10 gums alternate between 5, orbit and Dentyne Ice. Between the advertising, packaging updates and innovation those brands stay up top. Trident could really be revamped to make it pop on the shelf and remind people it is still there.”
Mints are also showing the same customer preference for tried-and-true mint flavors. “Fruity mints don’t move for us,” Eaton said.
As for what is driving the uptick in gum sales, convenience and simplicity appear to be key components to better performance in the category.
“Customers don’t spend much time in our stores, so they need gum in an easy convenient location (under the counter or on top), a package that pops and stands out to them, and more mint flavors,” Eaton said.
Eaton pointed to a change in Wrigley’s 5 gum, which went from naming flavors in creative ways such as “rain” and “accent” to more simple straightforward names, such as “spearmint” and “wintermint,” which helped customers better understand which flavor they were selecting and make a selection easily.
If the weather continues to improve this spring and foot traffic once again increases, Eaton expects the growth in gum and mints to continue at VERC locations. The c-store chain has also recently added more big pack items to test customer response.
At Mad Max Convenience Stores, Steve Magestro, president of Mad Max Convenience Stores based in Saukville Wis., has found that price points on gum are as important as the flavors, especially among customers that purchase gum several times a week.
Magestro has also found “trending-type flavors seem to be ‘fast and burn’ with little lasting power. The standbys that have been around for a long time still sell the best.”
Staying on top of the gum category has also helped Mad Max ensure it has the products customers most want. Mad Max adjusts the gum category every six months according to sales, Magestro noted. Magestro confirmed he is seeing an increase in gum sales at the chain’s 10 Wisconsin-based convenience store locations so far this year.
Meanwhile, mint sales have been decreasing so far this year, but as new flavors debut for summer and the busy traffic season arrives, Magestro anticipates mint sales will rally.
As gum and mints manufacturers continue to look to appeal to an ever-changing consumer base, expect to see more products that tout natural ingredients.
“More than half of Millennials who purchase gum, mints or breath fresheners are concerned about sugar, artificial ingredients and too many ingredients,” Mintel reported.
Mars, for example, has pledged to remove artificial colors from its human food product segments, which includes brands such as Life Savers, Wrigley’s, Extra and Juicy Fruit.