New Breeze Blows Into Gum Category
Raspy throat relief needs prompt latest developments in functional gum.
Following a successful world tour, throat-soothing mentholated gums designed to relieve smoker's rasp and cold symptoms are making their way stateside.
Long popular in Europe, Asia and Latin America, where smoking is more common, intense-flavored mentholated gums could eventually capture at least 10 percent of all gum sales in the United States, estimates Derek Schmitt, Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc.'s category manager for gum and candy.
In mid-December 2003, 7-Eleven introduced Fresh Air, a mentholated, sugar-free, breath-freshening gum developed exclusively for the convenience store chain by Ovalette Brands LLC, a gum and mint marketing firm based in New Rochelle, N.Y. Aimed at smokers as well as cold, flu, allergy and sore-throat sufferers, the gum creates a cooling effect in the chest, naval cavity and throat, explains Stephen Wolff, president of Ovalette.
The Fresh Air project arose when a 7-Eleven executive visiting one of the chain's Taiwan stores noticed that a mentholated gum it carried was selling about 15 packs a day, mostly to smokers. In comparison, a typical 7-Eleven in the United States sells only two or three packs of any single gum daily, according to the chain.
A pain in the throat
There are a lot of irritated throats out there. An estimated 46 million adults in this country smoke, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. The Centers for Disease Control reports that as many as 40 million will suffer from flu symptoms in a given year, and Americans contract an estimated one billion colds annually, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
According to 7-Eleven, annual U.S. retail cigarette sales are about $55 million.
Schmitt believes mentholated gum is a product tailor-made for convenience stores. "We thought this would be a good product for the American consumer — not just smokers, but those who want a chewing gum that does double duty to soothe air passages. We approached Ovalette to partner with us to develop a flavor profile and packaging that would appeal to U.S. consumers. Intense gums are leading growth in the gum category, and adding menthol ingredients takes the taste to a new level. It also lasts longer."
Using gum as a vehicle for throat-soothing effects makes sense for several reasons, Schmitt adds.
"This product is longer-lasting than a lozenge; gum is more popular than mints; and [the act of] chewing gum reduces stress."
Fruity and refreshing
Fresh Air, which has a taste similar to mentholated cough and throat lozenges, is currently available in Mint Chill and Honey Lemon Chill flavors. In addition, a Tangerine flavor will be introduced in late spring or early summer of this year. A 12-piece twin-pack sells for 99 cents. The chain currently markets Fresh Air at its checkout counters.
"Going forward, the product will be on the aisle shelves with the rest of the gum," Schmitt adds.
Altogether, nearly a year was devoted to developing the flavor, packaging and name. The name was chosen, says Schmitt, "to convey that the product can soothe air passages and freshen breath."
"We had various trials," in Fresh Air's development, says Wolff. "We always try for the perfect flavor, the perfect ingredients that the consumer won't find too overbearing. It's a refreshing, delicious gum that has a balance of flavors. It has a strong initial burst and then a long-lasting flavor."
Another player in menthol
Functional gum and mints marketer Unica Inc. is also getting set to introduce its mentholated X-it Sugar Free Gum in this country following a successful European test-marketing, primarily in Italy, according to Peter Zeuthen, president of the Glen Ellyn, Ill.-based company.
The compressed pellet gum, manufactured in pieces about the size of a fingernail and packaged in upright light blue and metallic green tins, will be available in peppermint and spearmint flavors. Retail price is $1.99 for a 20-gram, space-saving container. Unica is focusing chiefly on its breath-freshening qualities and intense flavor in its marketing initiatives in support of the brand.
"Mentholation gives it more flavor, a sharper flavor. It cuts through odors better and gives you a cooling effect. It is for people devoted to chewing gum," says Zeuthen.
"We have been doing phenomenally well with the gum in Italy," since early summer 2003, he adds.
X-it will be introduced in April 2004 at Cost Plus World Markets nationwide. The Oakland, Calif.-based chain carries a wide range of imported goods, from wines and gourmet confections and foods to rugs, soaps and furniture. It is a retail marketplace "for people who want to try new things," says Zeuthen, and that makes it an ideal launching ground for the new X-it mentholated gum. n