Ashton Kuchter does entertain but will it be enough to drive sales for Wrigley?

Ashton Kuchter does entertain but will it be enough to drive sales for Wrigley?

Wrigley dominates chewing gum - its market share in the UK for example is north of 80% - but in a bid to keep growing (and indeed freshen up slowing sales) here, the Mars-owned business has embarked on a series of initiatives. But could emphasising the link between sugar-free gum and oral health in a more direct way give a bigger boost to sales?

The company has announced a revamp of the brand logo for flagship gum Extra. The new "visual identity" would make Extra gum stand out on retail displays, Wrigley said, the aim being the redesign would capture the eye and drive sales. The gum giant has also changed the recipes of its Extra gums and says consumer testing has shown a "significant improvement in the overall liking and the purchasing intent" of and for the products.

The new look and recipes will roll out worldwide and follow a new international TV ad push featuring US actor Ashton Kutcher, as well as local moves, including the decision in December to re-brand its Orbit gums in the UK and switch the products to the Extra brand.

Wrigley outlined the reasons for the new design at a briefing in London last week. Extra has become the "driving force" behind Wrigley's growth in the UK, where sales stand at GBP266m. Extra's sales are GBP206m, enjoying, Wrigley said citing data from Nielsen, a CAGR of 5.9%.

Speaking to reporters, Julio Guijarro, marketing director for Wrigley's businesses in the UK and Ireland, said 2015 was "a year of major revolution in the brand" in the UK. He said: "This is a major, major year for us. We've never had a programme of this magnitude of changes."

However, Guijarro acknowledged Extra was "running out of gas" in the UK and globally. He insisted the growth Extra had been enjoying in the UK was "really serious business" but said the brand needed the efforts on recipes, packaging and marketing to ensure the level of growth it had enjoyed was "sustainable".

"When you are this big [as a brand], typically you get growth of 2-3% - 5.9% year-on-year growth is really serious business," he told just-food. "We are investing now to make that 5.9% sustainable. We were running out of gas. We were running out of gas globally actually. We are doing it now because we are doing well. That is a CAGR but we would like make sure that makes it sustainable. This is going to be a big year for the brand - no doubt in my mind. The whole new visual identity, with the plans we have, I think it's going to get us the next five years of growth. We're in a very good position to create that growth for the next three to five years."

However, one was left wondering if Wrigley - which after all is the big beast in the UK gum market, with an estimated (according to Euromonitor) market share of 87% - should be making more of the health claims linking sugar-free gum and better oral health.

Wrigley has secured endorsements from the British Dental Health Foundation and does already carry out a series of initiatives focused on dentists and the dental industry. A dental patient hearing from their dentist that they should chew sugar-free gum would carry more weight, Wrigley argues, than a recommendation from the company itself.

That argument is sound but, with consumer interest in what they eat (and one would suggest chew) continuing to rise and becoming more forensic, could Wrigley give the science behind sugar-free gum a more prominent role in its mainstream marketing?

Guijarro insisted the use of celebrities like Kuchter (and Antonio Banderas before him) was to inject a sense of fun into Wrigley's advertising and, he argued, help shoppers remember the Extra brand when they are standing at a fixture in-store.

The former Procter & Gamble executive said science had been important in his previous roles but gum, he insisted, was an "impulse" purchase. "In this category, it's all about being noticed and creating that memory for the brand so that when you go to the store, you have that one second [to attract consumers]. In other categories where consumers are more likely to browse, science makes a difference. When you are browsing in your shampoo aisle, science may give you that extra reason to be there. It's an interesting conversation to continue having. We are having that conversation internally every time as well. My passion coming from the background I have would be to [give science a more prominent role] - but the numbers tell us very different."

Wrigley's dominance of the category makes one wonder whether the company really needs to encourage consumers to think of its brands over others when choosing gum. The company could instead spend more time attracting new (or lapsed) consumers back chewing gum by emphasising the importance of sugar-free gum to health? One slide it showed of the impact eating - and following that up with chewing sugar-free gum - has on acidity levels (and therefore potential cavities) was revealing. The more grass-roots initiatives with dentists are wise moves but will they have the big-bang impact of informing consumers - and therefore driving sales over the medium term?