More sweet talk as Wrigley bites back

Confectioners eager to find areas of growth are turning to the fast-growing chewing gum sector, with a focus on its functional benefits. But Wrigley is fighting back with a brand extension of its own. Caroline Parry reports

Chewing gum has sloughed off its image as the anti-social habit of rebellious teenagers to become one of the fastest-growing categories in the confectionery market. The Wrigley Company has long been the dominant force in the sector, but new entrants Cadbury Trebor Bassett and Nestlé Rowntree are looking to take a chunk out of its market share, which is about 90 per cent. Meanwhile, Wrigley is expanding its offering by moving into the traditional mint market with the launch of Extra Mints (MW July 31).

The UK chewing and bubble gum market was worth £286m in 2001, according to research from Mintel. The market experienced 42 per cent growth during the five years to 2001 and with its key consumer segment – 15- to 24-year-olds – set to grow by five per cent by 2005, there is still plenty of potential. AC Nielsen figures show that the market grew by 14 per cent in 2002 alone and has yet to lose pace.

The fastest-growing segment of the gum market is sugar free, which in 2001 accounted for about 80 per cent of all chewing and bubble gum sales. The shift towards sugar free has helped gum brands to make more of the dental benefits of chewing gum after meals, and increasingly gum products are being launched with ingredients that help to make teeth feel cleaner and look whiter, while freshening breath.

This move towards the functional benefits of chewing gum has led to a rapid increase in sales – part of the market’s attraction for Cadbury and Nestlé. The confectionery giants are eager to find new areas of growth as their own market is static, with chocolate in particular being affected by the rise in cocoa prices.

But Wrigley is not resting on its laurels as the newcomers try to make inroads into the gum market. It plans to launch Orbit Professional this September (MW last week), a gum developed in association with dental researchers, which contains microgranules to help give teeth a cleaner feel. The gum is an extension of the company’s previous breath-freshening and tooth-cleaning products such as Orbit Ice White and its Extra range.

Wrigley managing director for UK and Ireland Gharry Eccles says that the dental benefits associated with chewing gum have helped the product overcome any anti-social stigma. “The majority of people who chew gum do so for the rational benefits that it offers.”

Cadbury Trebor Bassett also decided to focus on gum’s dental benefits when it launched Trebor 24-7 earlier this year (MW November 28, 2002). It is also expected to launch more products through medicated confectionery business Adams, which it bought last year for £2.7bn (MW December 19, 2002). The acquisition has made Cadbury the second-largest gum manufacturer in the world, and is expected to help the company gain ground in hotter countries where its core chocolate range does not sell as well as it does in the UK.

Colgate-Palmolive extended its dental care brand to launch Colgate Dental Gum in 2001, but the product’s positioning has been criticised by industry insiders. Chewing gum is perceived as confectionery by consumers and although Colgate’s product was distributed through confectioners, tobacconists and newsagents alongside other chewing gum brands, in large multiples it was placed in oral care aisles with toothpaste. One industry insider believes this confused consumers, which is the reason why the product has not performed well.

“The problem with Colgate Dental Gum is that no one is sure where to put it on the shelves as it is has dental positioning, whereas Wrigley’s products are confectionery with dental benefits,” he explains. “Colgate gum has not differentiated itself enough to have that kind of unique positioning. It should have launched the whitening gum as a dental product, but the menthol and peppermint flavours as confectionery.”

Colgate has since teamed up with confectionery giant Nestlé Rowntree (MW June 26) to launch a range of oral care products, which will be co-branded, from next year. The move is expected to include the repositioning of Colgate Dental Gum and will give Colgate the added advantage of Nestlé’s experience in impulse buying and distribution.

Apart from product innovation, Wrigley’s Eccles believes that investment in marketing and communication with consumers through distribution and point-of-purchase (PoP) activity are also key to growth in the market.

Industry insiders claim that Cadbury’s Trebor 24-7 – which is understood to have suffered initial problems despite denials by the confectionery giant – could have benefited from increased spending on PoP merchandising and advertising. Cadbury supported the product with a burst of television advertising at the time of its launch and via the sponsorship of failed Channel 4 show, Boys and Girls.

However, a strong eye-catching advertising campaign to support a new product does not always guarantee success – as Wrigley found with its X-Cite range, which was launched in March with a TV ad featuring a dog coming out of a man’s mouth to denote bad breath. The advertisement was pulled after the Independent Television Commission received several complaints. But despite the press coverage following the move, Wrigley is now understood to be deleting the range.

Undeterred by this set-back, Wrigley is looking to transform itself into a broader confectionery company and is extending its Extra gum brand into mints, on the back of its heritage as a breath-freshening product. Wrigley’s Extra Mints range is to be launched later this year, with a marketing investment of £12m. Eccles says the company has a long-stated ambition to diversify out of the chewing gum market.

Yet, another industry insider believes that Wrigley is making the move as there is little room for further innovation in the core gum market. “There is not really much more that can be done with the gum market. It’s about range refreshment through new pack formats and flavours, rather than [launching] original products.”

That has not deterred Cadbury from tapping into other parts of the gum market by focusing on children’s bubble gum brands such as Bubblicious and Bubbaloo, nor Wrigley which has plans to launch products targeting children.

However, predictions are that future growth will continue to be driven by products with functional benefits. And as Wrigley has just been granted a patent for chewing gum containing the active ingredient from Viagra as of 2011, it seems there are many different benefits yet to be exploited.

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