Mondelez to launch Sour Patch Kids gum

Mondelez to launch Sour Patch Kids gum

US gum sales have been in decline since 2010. The category is failing to attract what were once its key consumer group - young people. Mondelez International's move to extend its Sour Patch Kids brand into gum, teaming it with Stride, is a clear attempt to reach out to this demographic. However, Katy Askew is dubious about whether this will result in long-term sales lift.

When I was a kid, gum was in. Evidence of the popularity of chewing gum was everywhere - from music videos to the underside of the desk at school. Chewing gum was cool, a little bit rebellious and good for your breath to boot.

Fast-forward [an unspecified number of] years and it is clear chewing gum has fallen out of favour with today's youth. Gum sales in the US have been heading south since mid-2010. In 2011 gum sales in the country were down 2.7% to US$3.5bn and, according to Euromonitor International, the decline continued in 2012 when sales fell by around 3%.

As the gum chewers of yesteryear have entered their 30s and 40s, the rebellious appeal of gum has dwindled and they increasingly look to more "grown up" ways to freshen breath, preferring mints over chewing gum. While gum makers have attempted to hold on to these consumers by focusing on messaging around dental health, the success of this strategy has been limited.

Perhaps more significantly, gum makers have failed to convert new customers and the appeal of gum to millennials has been limited.

"In recent years, however, younger consumers have had less disposable income and increased apathy towards the activity of chewing gum in general," Euromonitor analysts write in their research report into the sector.

In the US the sector is dominated by the gum titans Mars Inc-owned Wrigley, who controlled 58.5% of the market in 2012, and Mondelez, who accounted for around 31% of sales.

Their collective response to the dwindling category has been to innovate. Now, product launches are - usually - one of the best ways of driving category excitement, increasing the appeal of a product and reaching out to new consumers. Usually.

But US gum has seen such a massive swathe of NPD in recent years, from Wrigley's Extra Dessert Delights (including varieties like Orange Crème Pop) and its short-lived attempt to win over consumers from the energy market with caffeinated gum Alert, to Mondelez's attempt to stimulate sales by launching Stride sub-brand iD in a bid to appeal to teens.

Shelves are now stacked with a vast array gum products, none of which have succeeded in getting the category moving in the right direction. In this situation, it would seem that NPD has become little more than white noise.

Enter Mondelez's Sour Patch Kids gum, to be launched under the Stride brand.

The use of the iconic Sour Patch Kids brand is a clever ploy in some respects. Sour Patch Kids appeal to a younger audience and Mondelez no doubt hopes to attract curious trial consumers who are already fans of the Sour Patch taste.

In the build up to the launch, set for January, the company is trying to stir up excitement with an interactive social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook - the marketers preferred medium when trying to connect to younger consumers today.

Much of the success of Sour Patch Kids gum will depend on its taste. A quick straw poll of Sour Patch Kid eaters seems to suggest opinion is divided over whether the Sour Patch experience will translate well to gum form.

As one consumer explained: "You'll want to swallow it. And you can't coat gum in the sour sugar... It just won't work."

Another Tweeted: "I don't know how I feel about #sourpatchstride."

While another verdict proclaimed: "SO stoked for this to come out next month in both Redberry and Lime! Definitely a 'Cool New Product'!"

Mondelez marketers will be pleased to get people talking, or tweeting, about the launch. But even if it drives trial purchase and results in a short-term sales lift, it fails to address the long-term structural decline impacting the gum sector.

Gum manufacturers need to hit a different note and work out how to appeal to today's teenagers. The long-term rejuvenation of the gum sector will require a more radical change of tact.