Functional Gum Forums
By Renee M. Covino
Is functional gum functioning well in a mainstream market? Innovative market players report that it is.
Retailers like 7-Eleven, Target, Travel Centers of America, Brooks/Eckerd, WaWa and others can’t all be wrong — and they are all betting on the appeal of functional foods and beverages. Late this summer, 7-Eleven made a particularly bold functional splash, launching its proprietary line of functional foods and beverages — Formula 7.
Functional and fortified foods and beverages (defined by the International Food Information Council as any food or food component that may have health benefits beyond basic nutrition) are the top-selling category of packaged consumer health and wellness goods, with sales reaching $23.4 billion in 2004, according to the National Marketing Institute.
In a poll of food industry executives by Reuters Business Insight, functional foods were predicted to be the most successful healthy food products through 2009, with America following the lead of Asian-Pacific countries.
Gum, long considered one of the best functional “delivery systems,” has maintained its stride with this strengthening trend.
“Gum and candies can deliver functional benefits in more acceptable food formats for many Americans who do not like to take pills or capsules,” says Corey Hamilton, director of sales for Nutravail Technologies, a pioneer in the production of consumer-friendly functional foods products, based in Chantilly, Va.
“Furthermore, gum can be made sugar-free, thus not adding extra calories,” maintains Steve Gold, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Ford Gum. “Consumers are looking to all their consumables to offer more than in the past — without added calories or sugar.”
 Some of the latest “fortified” gum products include the following.
• Nutra-Trim Weight Management Gum, which is from GumRunners (makers of Jolt gum), will be shipped in November — “just in time for the dieting push in January,” according to Kevin Gass, co-founder of the Hackensack, N.J.-based company. Nutra-Trim contains green tea extract, L-Carnitine and chromium picolinate to help increase metabolism and curb appetite. In response to requests from the food class of trade, the company is also launching a four-blister pack of its previously released Jolt energy (functional) gum.
• Cow Power Calcium Gum from Ford Gum delivers 250 mg of calcium per piece with four pieces providing 100 percent of a daily calcium requirement, according to the company. It also includes vitamin D for calcium absorption and has a fresh mint flavor.
• Pomegranate/Blueberry Gum, also from Ford, is made with natural pomegranate and blueberry extracts that are high in antioxidants. It is also made with Xylitol, which may help prevent tooth decay.
• Mad-Croc Energy Gum and Chews, manufactured by Nutravail Technologies, are being touted as “the energy drink you chew.” Two pieces of Mad-Croc Energy Gum pack the punch of an 8-ounce energy drink or a cup of coffee.
 It currently comes in three flavors: Power Peppermint, Cinnamon Kick and Spiked Spearmint. The newest sister product, Mad Croc Energy Chews, have a taste “similar to Starburst or Jolly Ranchers but have the grown-up addition of caffeine and B vitamins,” according to Hamilton.
• XPL Smoker’s Gum, launched with 7-Eleven nationwide, contains a patented combination of natural herb extracts that have been proven to increase the body’s production of cotinine, a metabolite that breaks down and expels nicotine.
“It works with the liver to expel nicotine faster,” says Pat Carroll, president of XPL Innovations, Westfield, N.J. “Getting the nicotine out faster lowers the blood pressure and takes the stress off the heart.”
The big question for all of these products is how should they be merchandised? And can they truly “function” in a mainstream candy market? Vendors sound off:
On the greatest merchandising challenge: “The problem with functional gum is that a lot of category managers are still not quite sure where functional gums should sit,” says Carroll. “Some buyers say they’re not a candy so they shouldn’t be in the front end and they want to push it towards the back of the store. Those who manage the back of the store say it’s a gum, so they want to push it to the front. We’ve noticed a ping-pong with buyers as to who actually owns functional gum.”
On merchandising suggestions: “Products can be slotted and merchandised separately to appeal to the target audience and distinguish them as functional products,” offers Ford Gum’s Gold.
“Retailers such as 7-Eleven, Target and Travel Centers of America have different thoughts on how to merchandise, but we are usually at the checkout lane and will be promoted with 2/$3 promotions vs. the regular price between $1.69-$1.99,” adds Nutravail’s Hamilton.
“I wouldn’t recommend putting our smoker’s product on a lower-tier next to Bubblicious, but I do think we belong sitting on the top rack with Dentyne Ice, Trident, etc., — those that are more adult-targeted,” says Carroll of XPL.
On the need for industry standards/guidelines: “At this point there is no need, but as more companies enter this fast-growing market, that will probably change,” says Hamilton. “A company like Nutravail with government-approved facilities and more than 80 patents has set the tone for the category, but less qualified companies may try to enter it.”
“The not-so-secret key to the growth is that functional candy has to be both functional and a candy,” states Gass of GumRunners. “If it doesn’t work, there’s no point to it, and if it doesn’t taste good, consumers won’t come back for seconds.