It’s not the best time to be in the gum and mints market.

It’s hard up for innovation, and people just don’t seem to be that excited when companies come up with yet one more name for “mint.”

In fact, retail sales of gum, mints, and breath fresheners fell 2.4 percent in 2013, according to a Mintel report on the category from Dec. 2013, Gum, Mints and Breath Fresheners – U.S.

“This would be the third consecutive year of declines in the category, cancelling growth experienced following the onslaught of the economic downturn,” it states. 

And, data from IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, isn’t any more uplifting. Looking at sales for the past 52 weeks ending April 20, 2014, it showed that: Regular gum sales declined 4.32 percent in the last year, down to $503.8 million and sugarless gum sales are down 4.52 percent from last year to $2.6 billion.

Meanwhile, mints are up just .55 percent to $350 million.

The one bright spot was breath fresheners, which grew 7 percent from last year to $709 million. 

The growth for breath fresheners makes sense, says Beath Bloom, Food and Drug Analysis for Mintel.

“The vast majority of category participants turn to its offerings for breath freshening, and half of users do so to get a bad taste out of their mouth,” she explains. “This is a strong indication that product marketing would do well to promote the ability of products to meet these primary needs.”

Overall, the category’s decline is likely due to a combination of factors, including “a lack of relevant innovation,” the Mintel report states.

“New products, new varieties, and new formulations have all declined among product launches measured by Mintel GNPD,” the report says.

That doesn’t mean companies didn’t come up with any new ideas though.

One of the most innovative new products in the gum market during last year was the Stride Sour Patch Kids Gum.

Sour Patch Kids, known for its “sour, then sweet” taste, is currently the number one selling all-sour candy brand in the U.S. marketplace and this was the company’s fist dip into the company category, thanks to a partnership with Stride.

Available in Redberry and Lime flavors, it’s sugar-free and allows allow kids to enjoy the taste ofSour Patch Kids without having to take in countless pieces of candy.

“We are thrilled to bring the sour then sweet experience to Stride gum,” says Lauren Sella, senior brand manager, Stride, Mondelez International. “Both brands have tremendous fans and we are counting on them to help us find the kids so we can turn them on to this delicious gum and bring this innovative product to market.”

And of course, Wrigley, which is owned by Mars, launched some new products as well, although they stuck more to line extensions. For example, the company added a new 5 Ascent “Wintermint” flavor to its 5 gum line, which also includes 5 Cobalt and5 Rain.

The gum and mints category is facing an uphill battle overall though.

There’s already plenty of gums and mints on the market. And, consumers are snacking more and more, which means they’re less time between meals to chew gum and suck on mints, Mintel says.

The research firm goes on to say that, “the struggling category needs a reboot.

“This can happen both at the product development and promotion stages. A focus on function will be key to enlivening sales and turning products into planned purchases that meet a specific need, rather than fun, impulse buys.”

And while the new gums are important for the market, it’s also vital that companies focus on the sector of the category that is growing — breath fresheners.

Overall, sales of breath fresheners grew 19 percent from 2008-13 to reach $729 million at the end of last year, Mintel reports.

 “The vast majority of category participants (76 percent) use gum, mints, and breath fresheners specifically to freshen breath,” the reports states. “Given consumer demand, breath freshening efficacy should be prioritized.”

Here companies like Hershey, Ferrero and Wrigley — the top three sellers of breath mints respectively, according to IRI — do not disappoint.

In the last year Wrigley launched a new version of Altoids, dubbed Altoids Arctic. “It’s a smooth mint that combines the new Altoids cooling experience with the breath freshening you trust and expect from Altoids,” the company says.

It’s comes in two flavors: Peppermint and Wintergreen.

And Ferrero continued to expand its line of Tic Tacs with new flavors like a limited-edition Summer Ice Pop that’s a red, white and blue for the summer and features three flavors: Cherry, Lime and Berry. The company also released a red and green Cherry Apple mix for the holidays.

Meanwhile, Hershey, which makes Ice Breakers mints and gum, released something completely different.

Their new Ice Breakers Cool Blasts are a hybrid mix of gum and breath fresheners. The pieces chew like a gum for about 15 seconds and then dissolve in your mouth so you can swallow them. They come in two flavors: Spearmint and Peppermint. And the strong flavors are almost guaranteed to breathe some fresh air into the category.

Aside from focusing on breath fresheners though, there are other ways to lure consumers.

“Value lies in positioning products as useful in weight loss, mood enhancement, and comfortable social interaction,” Mintel says. “Such a focus also can allow for premium positioning and will enable retailers to expand display opportunities, moving products beyond the confectionery aisle into other parts of the store.”

That’s where a product like Immuno-Gum, comes in. Created by Terry O’Neil, it contains six key ingredients that support the immune system, including zinc, vitamin C, elderberry, Siberian ginseng, astragalus, and echinacea.

And O’Neil claims it can help fight off a cold or keep you from getting one in the first place. It’s the perfect new product for consumers looking for gums that offer function and fun.

Likely the main reason O’Neil created a more unusual product though is because he isn’t your typical confectioner; he’s also a medical doctor and presides over the emergency room at Fullerton, Calif.’s St. Jude Hospital.

When he had the idea to create the gum, he knew there were other non-gum other products on the market that claim to do the same thing, but they just weren’t quite right for truly busy people — like emergency room doctors.

“Airborne, you need a water with you, they’re kind of a hassle; it’s not really a product that busy people could really take,” O’Neil explains. “Lozenges, over time, they become sticky; they stick to the exterior of the wrapping.”

So, he decided that a chewing gum, which you could carry around with you and use on a daily basis, was a better idea. It also has some added medical benefits.

“If you have a pill or a drink and you mix it in water, it goes straight to your stomach. But a lot of medications can be absorbed underneath your tongue, and gum, it absorbs in your mouth. It actually coats the back of your throat, too,” O’Neil says.

Launching such an unusual product hasn’t been easy though.

“This is a very difficult to do because other people aren’t doing it, bringing an immunity functioning gum to the market,” he says. “My motivation was, I really believe in the product and the ingredients. I wanted a product that I could bring to the market that I could personally use. I feel that I would use this and I feel that the packaging looks good and it just makes sense to me.”

Of course, as with any candy, the big question is: Does it taste good?

O’Neil says they worked on the flavors for years, but they finally got it right. Immuno-Gum comes in three flavors: Mint, Mixed Berry and Citrus. While the Mint and Mixed Berry gums provide immune support, the Citrus flavor is a vitamin C only gum.

“We finally have it where the ingredients do not affect the flavor,” he says. “It tastes like a traditional chewing gum.”

 And there you have it — a mix of innovation and tradition. It’s seems to be exactly what consumers want these days. 

gum and mint chart