After the COVID-19 pandemic brought on two difficult years for the gum category, it appears to be bouncing back.

IRI, a Chicago-based research firm, valued the entire gum market at $2.69 billion in the year ending May 15, up 13.7 percent from a year ago. Comparatively, in the year ending June 13, 2021, the gum category totaled $2.38 billion in sales. 

Nonetheless, the category has not quite reached pre-pandemic levels. In 52 weeks ending June 14, 2020, gum sales totaled $2.88 billion. In 2019, gum sales had surpassed $3 billion.

The same trend appears when looking at regular and sugar-free gum sales:

Regular gum

$461.64 million in the year ending Sept. 8, 2019

$421.69 million in the year ending June 14, 2020

$359.33 million in the year ending June 13, 2021

$381.20 million in the year ending May 15, 2022

Sugar-free gum

$2.67 billion in the year ending Sept. 8, 2019

$2.45 billion in the year ending June 14, 2020

$2.02 billion in the year ending June 13, 2021

$2.31 billion in the year ending May 15, 2022

Mars Wrigley leads the gum segment, with nearly 55 percent of total sugar-free gum sales and nearly 65 percent of regular gum sales. That represents $1.27 billion and $247 million, respectively.

In the sugar-free market, Mondelēz International takes the second spot, with 18 percent of the market share, representing $418.16 million in sales. The Hershey Co., Perfetti Van Melle and The Pur Co. round out the Top 5, with a combined market share of almost 27 percent.

Concord Confections takes the No. 2 spot in the regular gum category, with nearly 13 percent of the market share. The Dubble Bubble maker earned $48.8 million in the year ending May 15.

The Hershey Company follows with $28.5 million in gum sales, representing 7.5 percent of the market. Ford Gum and The Topps Company round out the Top 5 with a combined market share of just under 6 percent.

Gum manufacturers say focusing on innovation and amping up marketing efforts have helped the category correct course.

“The category is resilient, and gum and mints continue to be an important product offering that is rebounding as restrictions lift across the U.S.,” said Justin Hollyn-Taub, senior marketing director, U.S. gum and mints at Mars Wrigley.

Hollyn-Taub noted Mars Wrigley initiated marketing efforts designed to highlight gum’s benefits beyond freshening breath and connect with consumers, especially during an unprecedented period that all but ceased social interaction.

“After a hiatus due to COVID, this past holiday season was unique for many as families and friends gathered – with their rusty social skills and all,” he said. “Knowing that consumers typically look for gum when they need freshening up for social occasions, Extra Gum launched a new campaign, titled ‘Chew It Before You Do It,’ spotlighting how taking a moment to chew a piece of gum before doing, saying or acting can be the difference between a lasting fond memory and a social blunder.”

Earlier this year, Mars Wrigley expanded its Extra Refreshers line with Fruit Mix. Featuring Strawberry, Lemon and Orange flavors, the product received the 2022 Most Innovative New Product award for the Gum & Mints category at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo.

“To ensure product innovations continue to surprise and delight shoppers at retail, at Mars Wrigley, we consistently keep a pulse on what motivates consumers and are working to deliver on shoppers’ evolving requests for a wider variety of offerings,” Hollyn-Taub said. “Knowing that consumers are always looking for new flavors and varieties, we created our Extra Refreshers Fruit Mix that brings together a unique fruit experience with three refreshing flavors all in one bottle for a refreshing boost of flavor.”

Perfetti Van Melle has also emphasized innovation for the Mentos gum brand throughout the pandemic. In the year ending May 15, it’s the fourth of the Top 20 gum brands tracked by IRI, generating $254.4 million over that period with dollar sales growth of nearly 20 percent.

Last year, Perfetti Van Melle introduced Mentos Gum with Vitamins, which features 30% of the recommended daily value of vitamins B6, B12 and C. In 2022, Perfetti Van Melle is launching a Berry variety of Mentos Gum with Vitamins.

“It’s a wonderful way for consumers to enjoy the delicious refreshment of Mentos Gum while getting the extra benefit of important vitamins,” said Craig Cutchra, VP of marketing, Perfetti Van Melle USA and Canada. “This innovation was right on time, inspired by the trend of wellness and vitamins being especially top of mind for consumers, while the ‘better-for-you’ segment has been rapidly growing in food and beverage.”

The company also plans to introduce fruit flavor innovations for the Mentos gum brand this year: Sour Grape and Sour Strawberry. They’ll be available in a 28-piece pack.

“This innovation responds to trends with younger consumers especially who are seeking sour fruit flavors and increased value,” Cuchra said. “The sour fruit gums are a winning combination since households with kids greatly overindex on sour flavor gum.”

Brian Heiser, VP of sales and marketing, Ford Gum & Machine Co., said the regular gum category — and more specifically, the bubble gum category — did not experience the same declines as the sugar-free category, thanks to parents’ desire to treat their children and pass down their own childhood favorites.

“In sugar bubble gum, nostalgia is where it’s at,” he said. “Looking at all the major players — these are brands that have been around for 40-plus years. Adults have a fond connection with these brands and therefore they have built-in approval to give to their kids. It’s critical to get kids into gum so they become gum chewers later in life.”

While Wrigley’s regular gum topped the sugar gum category with $172.8 million, the next three of the Top 5 tracked by IRI are bubble gum brands. Mars Wrigley’s Hubba Bubba brand pulled in $61.6 million in the year ending May 15, succeeded by Dubble Bubble with $47.4 million and Hershey’s Bubble Yum with $28.5 million. Those brands all saw double-digit growth over the same period.

“We hope retailers are looking closely at sugar bubble gum,” Heiser said. “The industry is a bit down on the gum category, and bubble gum gets lumped into that. Sugar bubble gum is on the rise, and retailers need to be looking at how to expand that space – not decrease.”

Freedent and Ford Gum’s Big League Chew brand round out the Top 6 brands, with $12.6 million and $11.8 million, respectively.

Heiser said Ford Gum has pursued a two-prong approach through the pandemic: beefing up its social marketing strategy, especially for Big League Chew, and introducing new products, such as the Warheads Super Sour Gumballs.

“Demand for Big League Chew has never been higher,” Heiser said. “Our Warheads gum is on fire, and we are gaining new customers every day.”