Steeped in nostalgia harkening back to sock hops and the invention of the American teenager, bubble gum has long carried a special place in the minds of consumers. However, the love affair with gum overall has dimmed in recent years with sales slowing in 2009 for reasons ranging from the proliferation of breath mints to lack of interest from core consumer segments, according to Euromonitor International Ltd.
One of the biggest reasons for the overall decline in bubble gum sales has been a lack of emphasis on introducing items, which consumers are still seeking, according to Inri Mouchette, senior brand manager for The Hershey Co.
The strategy of offering new items, focused on flavor and format innovations, appears to be sparking renewed interest in the sector. In fact, bubble gum sales have increased during the first seven months of 2016 by 5 percent, reaching $261 million, Euromonitor reports.
“In the bubble gum sector, consumers are typically very exploratory,” Mouchette tells Candy & Snack TODAY. “They want new flavors, product lines and different kinds of packs and shapes that draw excitement and they are looking for that ‘new’ pretty consistently.”
Novel taste profiles alone won’t draw repeat purchases though, as consumers also seek out brands with strong flavor retention, according to George Stege, president of Ford Gum & Machine Co., Inc.
Of course, an item’s ability to facilitate bubble blowing is also critical to sustaining sales, Stege adds.
In addition to innovation, Ford Gum’s chief exec notes expanding distribution has helped consistently grow the company’s Big League Chew brand.
“It’s been tied to baseball since its inception,” Stege explains. “Baseball and softball fields are where most of the gum is chewed. It has provided a product identity and a theme, if you will, for the line that has sustained it for more than 30 years.”
Among the most important factors in the increasingly complex bubble gum market is offering up an interactive chewing experience, according to Erin Roach, marketing coordinator with Koko’s Confectionery & Novelty.
“That goes along with our motto, ‘Candy That Tastes Like Fun,” Roach says. “We’ve introduced a lot of products this year that are gum, but with a more interactive feel to them.”
In addition, Koko’s has turned to licensing to draw consumer interest with the release of Dippin’ Dots gum featuring centers filled with candy beads that mimic the futuristic ice cream concept. The company also turned to the red hot Sriracha flavor profile, bringing to the market a line of items that feature a blend of the pepper sauce and sweet notes.
“That’s one of those flavors that is popular among consumers right now, with everything from Lay’s chips to even a Sriracha vodka,” Roach says, explaining the profile was selected because the company is “always looking for something different that is relevant and does well in other markets.”
Nicole Rivera, director of marketing and innovation for Bazooka Candy Brands, also highlighted the co-branding trend. She notes brands are entering the sector by leveraging other equities, giving as an example the company’s Juicy Drop line and the introduction of a bubble gum item under that brand.
At the heart of co-branding movements is still a commitment to delivering flavor profiles that excite and entice consumers. To this end, Rivera notes the rising popularity of sour is migrating from non-chocolate into the gum market.
“When we look at sour, it is definitely a focus area and influences our innovations,” she adds. “There will always be those tried and true flavors in non-chocolate portfolios, such as fruit punch and blue raspberry, and that’s carrying over into gum.”
Hershey also indicates sour is becoming more prevalent in bubble gum, according to Mouchette.
“Sour flavors and fruit combinations are the two segments that have started playing a more predominant role from a flavor trend perspective,” she explains.
Green apple and strawberry are two sour profiles rising in popularity, while combinations such as strawberry banana and lemon and berries are gaining traction in the market as well, Mouchette reports.
“The nature of bubble gum is more closely aligned to non-chocolate, it’s about flavor and profile excitement,” adds Mark Fargason, Hershey assistant brand manager.
Grape, watermelon, cherry, orange and lemon are resonating with consumers, according to Ford’s Stege. He adds other forms of non-chocolate are also sources of inspiration for bubble gum, pointing to increasing interest in cotton candy-flavor gum.
‘The nature of bubble gum is more closely aligned to non-chocolate, it’s about flavor and profile excitement.’ — Mark Fargason, The Hershey Co.
Corroborating the rising popularity of cotton candy-inspired items in the sector and a close parallel between non-chocolate and bubble gum, Rivera says: “At the end of the day, it’s the same consumer preferences in the two segments. Bubble gum has more leeway in that regard than a chewing gum.”
While they share space in sales data, chewing gum and its bubble counterparts diverge when it comes to eating occasions.
“Bubble gum is more about playful enjoyment,” says Hershey’s Mouchette. “It’s something to entertain your mouth, where chewing gum starts with mint as a refreshment-first profile. Chewing gum is more about confidence.”
Seeking to better understand the points of difference, Bazooka undertook an attitude and usage study, according to Rivera. What the company uncovered confirmed much of the industry’s gut feeling: Bubble gum is all about entertainment.
“That’s why Bazooka continues to be relevant,” she says, explaining the company offers an experience beyond bubble blowing with its Bazooka Joe comics and now digital content centered on its iconic brand mascot.
However, there are still plenty of crossovers between the two sectors. This ranges from flavor profiles to consumer packaging preferences.
For example, noticing the dramatic rise of to-go-cup pack formats in chewing gum, Bazooka explored the opportunity when developing its sugarfree bubble gum, which won a Most Innovative New Product Award at the recent Sweets & Snacks Expo. Rivera adds that the company is exploring gusseted bags as well.
“While there will always be tried-and-true smaller packs, there will be innovation in terms of packaging as retailers increase space they are giving to gum,” she adds. “If you look, everyone is upgrading to to-go cups because it’s a higher SRP and turns are very good.”
While larger pack formats are gaining shelf space, Ford’s Stege says classic pack options won’t be disappearing as most bubble gum purchases are for “immediate consumption, not squirreling away for a rainy day.”
Hershey’s Fargason concurs, noting that during the past five years $2 out of every $3 spent on bubble gum went to smaller, more immediate consumption formats.
“While there are a lot of bubble gum products in larger formats, that’s more of a value play,” he explains. “The typical bubble gum consumer picks it up in instant consumable pack sizes and that’s where we expect it to stay.”
While the primary usage occasion for chewing gum tends to be breath freshening, consumers still turned to the sector’s fruit and dessert-inspired offerings as a treat, according to Katie Goeke, director of confection category insights for Mondelez International, Inc.
At Project 7, Inc., these usage occasions are referred to as “secondary chews,” says company founder Tyler Merrick. He notes that by offering unique flavor profiles, consumers are given another reason to chew gum outside of breath freshening.
“They can get bored with just mint varieties and our range of flavors gives consumers options to break up the monotony,” Merrick explains. “We haven’t cannibalized the large brands, we’ve added to them and are trying to help grow a segment that has been in decline.”
While the usage occasions between mint and sweeter chewing gum varieties differ, the core consumers remain the same, according to Adeena Cohen, director of marketing and business development for Simply Gum Inc.
“Many times consumers are looking for a minty and sweet option, and stock up on both,” she tells Candy & Snack TODAY. “This is one reason our assorted packs are by far our best seller.”
While the common conception is that younger consumers prefer sweeter chewing gums, plenty of adult shoppers flock to these items when seeking a sweet treat while dieting or as a tool for smoking cessation, according to Molly Lederer, director of communications and marketing for Verve, Inc.’s Glee Gum.
When it comes to sweeter varieties, fruit flavors tend to be among the most popular, according to Goeke. She adds “red” flavors, such as watermelon, tropical fruit and berry-based items are consistently strong performers.
Admitting that mint varieties will continue to drive chewing gum sales, Cohen says Simply Gum’s ginger offering has become extremely popular because of increased interest in the root’s use as an ingredient.
At Glee, bubble gum is the best-selling non-mint flavor, according to Lederer. However, the company took the classic taste and updated it to meet modern consumers’ demands as the company’s line excludes artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners.
At Project 7, flavor development is centered on surprising consumers with tastes not often seen in the sector such as Birthday Cake, Rainbow Ice, Coconut Lime and Grapefruit Melon. The company’s commitment to unique seems to be paying off, as the latter two items won Most Innovative New Product Awards at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The company’s Build-a-Flavor S’mores chewing gum was a product award finalist at this past Expo.
“Our flavors remind consumers of the fun in chewing gum and bring them back into the sector,” Merrick adds. CST