Chewing gum bubble bursts as US sales plummet

CHEWING gum seems as appealing as that sticky wad on the bottom of a shoe these days.

Teens are shunning chewing gum in favour of chocolate and mints. Picture: PA

Americans are not as crazy about chomping away on the stuff as they once were, with US sales tumbling 11 per cent over the past four years.

No one in the industry can pinpoint a single factor that’s causing the decline - the theories include an unwillingness to shell out $2 (£1.20) or more for a pack in the bad economy or that advertising veered too far from underlining gum’s cavity-fighting benefits.

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But the biggest reason may be that people simply have more to chew on.

From designer mints to fruit chews, sweet companies have invented plenty of other ways to get a sugar fix or battle bad breath and anxiety.

The alternatives do not come with gum’s unpleasant characteristics either, like the question of whether to spit out or gulp the remains. They are also less likely to annoy parents, co-workers or romantic interests.

The gum chewing habit dates as far back as the ancient Greeks but arrived in the US in its modern form in the 1860s, according to Mars, the No 1 player in the market with its Wrigley unit.

Over the years, gum makers positioned it as a way to “Kiss a Little Longer” in the famous Big Red jingle, quit smoking, curb cravings or just make the chewer happier.

But gum’s image as a tasteless habit also stuck, with some high-profile gum chewing only making it worse.

In 2003, Britney Spears gave an interview to CNN where a white piece of gum could be seen floating around her mouth as she fielded questions on a range of topics, including the war in Iraq.

Gum’s bad image is one reason that alternatives look more attractive. There is also another perennial complaint: “The flavour runs out too fast,” said Ryan Furbush, 17, from Sayreville, New Jersey who has stopped chewing gum in favour of chewy sweets and chocolates.

It may be why Mars said its gum declines have been most significant with people who are 25 and younger.

Since peaking in 2009, US gum sales have fallen 11 per cent to $3.71bn (£2.2 billion) last year, according to market researcher Euromonitor International.

Yet overall sweet sales - including gum, chocolate, mints and licorice - have climbed 10 per cent to $31.53bn (£19 billion).

Over the next five years, Euromonitor projects gum sales will drop another 4 per cent to $3.56bn (£2.1 billion).