Innovative flavors, formats and packaging have increased trial and impulse sales for the c-store gum and mint category.
By Lisa White, Contributing Editor
From new flavors to different formats, unique textures and creative packaging and even functional varieties such as products geared toward increasing energy or enhancing nutrition, the gum and mints category is changing quickly.
Chicago-based market research firm Information Resources Inc. (IRI) reported that gum sales in the convenience channel totaled $1.04 billion, with sugarless gum totaling $846 million, in the 52 weeks ending Feb. 25, 2018. Plain mint sales during this period totaled almost $82 million, while breath fresheners in c-stores totaled $243 million.
“There’s always something new, with all the gum and mint manufacturers launching items annually and throughout the year,” said Ray Kostrzycki, director of marketing at CoGo’s, a 47-store chain based in Pittsburgh. “What I’m primarily seeing is gum has been declining and so have mints in the last two years. Like with candy, king and peg are driving the category.”
Between 2012 and 2017, retail volume sales of gum fell by 13%, while sales of mints grew by 14%, according to Euromonitor International. In this intensely competitive environment, brand manufacturers in both segments launched new products last year. In December 2017, for instance, Mars Wrigley Confectionery launched Extra Chewy Mints to positive reviews.
Joseph Bortner, category supervisor of York, Pa.-based Rutter’s, a chain of 69 stores, agreed that consumers are seeing a larger value in trading up pack sizes.
“Single packs have remained stagnant while bottle packs are continuing to drive growth,” said Bortner. “Over the last year, we’ve seen more brand assortment entering into bottle packs.”
Offering consumers more choice is manufacturers’ answer to dipping gum sales.
According to market research firm Nielsen, convenience store gum sales were down more than 5% in the 52 weeks ending July 1, 2017, with sales tipping $920 million, compared to $970 million the previous year.
“From a trends perspective, gum, and to a lesser extent mint, sales are not going strongly enough in the right direction,” said Daniel Levine, director of the Avant-Guide Institute, a global trend consultancy based in New York.
“The billion dollar question, of course, is why,” he added.
Some observers reason gum chewing among U.S. consumers isn’t as trendy as it used to be. As popularity in the gum segment has waned, efforts to capture that spark again have grown, especially in terms of functional offerings.
“From my perspective, there may be growth potential for other types of functional gum, ones that mimic the spectacular growth of functional beverages for energy and stimulation, health and wellness, and weight management,” said Levine. “The challenge for functional gum in the past is that it is often packaged to look like medicine. The opportunity lies in packaging it like VitaminWater or Red Bull, and these are the brands that c-store owners and managers should be looking at.”
To best capitalize on this segment, CoGo’s is resetting its categories based on the popularity of gum and mint lines.
“We’re resetting our categories based on that information,” said Kostrzycki. “We just went through a reset with our distributor and made adjustments to planograms to accommodate best sellers and trends. Trident, 5 and Orbit are all top items in our stores, but flavor trends are less obvious.”
At Team Oil Travel Center’s Spring Valley, Wis. store, it’s always the same brands and flavors that are strong sellers, including Extra and 5 spearmint flavors, Wrigley’s Doublemint and Sugar Free Ice Breaker mints.
“New gum and mint varieties are constantly introduced, but never do as well as the traditional lines,” said Jesse Streator, grocery manager. “The new 35-stick packs came out, but aren’t getting much attention from customers. And the big plastic box isn’t as portable, although packaging is always being updated in this category.”
Team Oil sells its gum and mints at the front counter, since these items are an impulse sale for some and destination item for others. The store doesn’t have special promotions due to the low price points of under $2 for gum and under $3 for mints.
“These items sell pretty steadily,” said Streator.
The Pride Stores Inc., a 12-store chain based in Warrenville, Ill., has stronger gum sales compared with mints.
“However, mints are bringing more innovation to this category,” said Nicolette Jaeger, loyalty and food service manager. “Hybrid flavors are becoming increasingly popular as well as an influx of mints that are soft and chewable.”
The stores’ top-selling items are slim packs of Wrigley’s Doublemint and 5 Rain Spearmint gum lines.
Recent additions to its offerings include Tic Tac Coconut Pineapple and Trident Dragon Fruit Lychee and Passion Fruit Twist flavors.
“We added these new and exciting flavors to appeal to the younger demographic,” said Jaeger.
Mints are projected to post a positive value compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3% at constant 2017 prices.
“While breath fresheners are still king, Millennials will continue to drive a shift towards bold flavors as their demographic grows,” said Rutter’s Bortner. “I believe mints will experience some growth in 2018 and could see similar challenges as gum in 2019. I wouldn’t be shocked if there’s a move to a bottle/bulk pack mint that comes out later this year or 2019.”
Mars Wrigley’s commitment to innovation helped it maintain its dominant position in gum over the last year, according to Euromonitor. In 2017, for instance, the company launched a soft chew format of its Orbit White brand, mirroring the popular format of Hershey’s Ice Breakers brand and catering to strong demand for chewy textures. The company also introduced Doublemint Perfectly Sweet with real sugar and no artificial sweeteners, flavors or colors.
“Innovation seems to be coming from traditional category brands playing in new arenas,” said Bortner at Rutter’s. “This includes Wrigley Extra releasing Extra Chewy Mints or Ferrero launching Tic Tac gums. If these prove successful, more brands may look to do more crossovers in the future.”
Most recently, The Hershey Co. released its glittered Ice Breakers gum line this spring in a limited time offer promotion, as an attempt to capitalize on the glitter trend that has marked 2018.
Also, Project 7 has expanded its Front Porch Lemonade and Wedding Cake gum lines with Super Strong Gum, which boasts bold, innovative flavors as well as guarana and vitamins B6 and B12 for energy.