Mentos rides the geyser

YouTube is awash with films of the eruptive results when Mentos are mixed with Diet Coke. The confectionery company is hoping the surge will be reflected in its UK sales, says John Reynolds

Confectionery giant Perfetti van Melle will be hoping the explosive consequences of mixing its Mentos mints with Diet Coke will prove to be the catalyst for greater demand for Mentos in the UK.

The reaction, which creates 30ft high fountains of fizz, has proved a phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic for at least two years and there are more than 600 videos replicating the experiment on user-generated websites. Rumour has it that global sales of Mentos, the world’s number two confectionery brand, have risen by around 15% on the back of the craze.

Yet UK sales of the 70-year-old brand are small, with Perfetti Van Melle commanding just 1% of the UK mint and chewing gum market, according to Mintel. Mentos hopes its tie-up with the National Schools Partnership on a brand awareness campaign (MW last week) will allow it to grab a larger bite of the £200m UK mint sector.

The company claims the campaign, which starts next month and targets 100,000 12to 13-year-olds, will inspire school pupils to enjoy science lessons by asking them to recreate the experiment. Teachers will be able to download online resources, including lesson plans, experiments and details of competitions, which will offer children the chance to win thousands of pounds worth of science equipment for their schools.

Yet the tie-up has attracted criticism from some quarters, with one lobby group deeming it a “sneaky way of advertising through the back door”. Alan Scurfield, managing partner at Ten Nine, the specialist advertising company for schools, comments: “My reservations would be the experiments will be widely repeated by children when not under supervised conditions. I am not sure what the effect on a child would be of swallowing Mentos and immediately swallowing a large gulp of Diet Coke, but someone will try it.”

Some, like David Hallam, analyst at Evolution, believes the YouTube phenomenon is unlikely to have a major impact on the brand. Yet others argue the campaign will fuel interest in science and, furthermore, Mentos would be foolish not to try to benefit from the phenomenon – as it has done previously by officially sponsoring a version of the experiment orchestrated to resemble a firework display in the US and encouraging participation in Science Day 2007 earlier this month.

Graham Hales, chief communications officer at Interbrand, says: “The YouTube phenomenon will give it encouragement to give it a push in the UK. Mentos is adopting the right approach in a bid to benefit schools.”

Perfetti van Melle UK marketing director Mark Stangroom says the campaign is a response to demand from school teachers and that the company is “sending out one box purely for experimentation.” He adds: “It is a branding opportunity – but we are not trying to push it down people’s throats.”

It is clear, though, that Mentos is in need of a fillip in the UK, where sales have lagged significantly behind European neighbours such as Mentos’ home country of the Netherlands, Italy and the US.

Mentos was founded in 1932 by brothers Pierre and Michael van Melle, who came up with the idea of peppermint flavoured sweets and set up the company under the van Melle name in Rotterdam. Initially sold in the Netherlands, production of Mentos moved across Europe to France, Germany and Italy during the 1950s. The first Mentos in a tubular packet appeared in the 1960s.

New product variants, such as fruit-flavoured and cinnamon mints, followed, while the brand made its television advertising debut in Europe in 1976. Its success in the US, according to observers, is partly due to its quirky TV advertising which started running in the early 1990s. The humorous ads showed that eating Mentos could help remedy everyday problems.

While mint and mixed-fruit remain the bedrock of Mentos sales, they are now sold in an assortment of flavours as diverse as orange, grapefuit and peach. And as demand for healthier options has increased in recent years, Mentos has been relaunched in the UK with the introduction of what it claimed to be the first sugar-free chewy mint and Mentos gum.

The relaunch marked a change in strategy and followed the Perfetti Van Melle’s takeover of lollipop brand Chupa Chups in 2005. This followed the merger between van Melle and Italy’s Perfetti in 2001. Its new sugar-free variant contains Xylito, which is believed to be good for the teeth while Mentos Pure Fresh, which contains green-tea extract, has been supported by ads using the strapline “The World’s Gone Mentos”.

The brand’s advertising is handled by Bartle Bogle Hegarty which won the £15m pan-European brief in 2002. Last year it launched a 30-second TV ad which depicted a world going mint-crazy with Scandinavian villagers running towards a lake full of Mentos. It is running an alternative ad campaign across cinemas.

Stangroom says the UK chewing gum market, which has benefited from the launch of Cadbury’s Trident, will be a “slow build” for the brand but says the ambition for Mentos is to be “a top three brand” across the mint sector. The UK chewing gum market continues to be dominated by Wrigley which has over 50% of the market, despite a serious challenge from Cadbury’s sugar-free, fruit-flavoured gum Trident.

Whether Mentos can wrest market share from the dominant players in the UK market remains to be seen, though observers believe it will benefit from the smoking ban in public places which has helped stimulate growth across the sector. Gharry Eccles, managing director at Wrigley, says: “Chewing gum is a category driven by innovation and it needs a substantial programme of investment.”

The key for the brand, according to Stangroom, is distribution. Mentos is sold through leading retailers such as Tesco and Morrisons along with petrol stations BP and Esso, but is aiming to secure wider distribution in future.†

Timeline
Mentos

1932 Brothers Michael and Pierre van Melle create peppermintflavoured caramel sweets

1950s Production of Mentos moves to Rotterdam and the brand has international orders to France and Germany

1960s Mentos packaged in a roll are launched

1973 New flavours introduced include cinnamon and menthol and fruit-flavoured mints

1976 Mentos makes its TV debut across Europe with its first ad

2001 Van Melle merges with Perfetti of Italy. The enlarged company has corporate headquarters in Lainate, Italy and in Breda in the Netherlands

2006 Mentos enters the gum sector with Mentos Pure Fresh

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