November 1, 2006
The British gum market went down 6% last year and 5% the year before. Cadbury blames a lack of competition and believes that breaking into the market with its American brand, Trident, will help sales snap back.
I would dispute this reasoning. When I decide to buy slightly less of something, year on year, it is almost never because I'm thinking, "If only there were more choice! If only I wasn't staring down the barrel of the same old minty flavours!"
And yet, chewie occupies an ambiguous place in the national psyche that might account for the slump. The British Dental Association is in favour of sugar-free gum as "chewing stimulates saliva in your mouth, which helps fight the bacteria that cause tooth decay". But when I first started eating it, it was because it stopped you eating proper food, and by this cunning means made you thin. I did not need science to prove this not to be the case; all I needed was a full-length mirror. Science did weigh in, though, with various notions: gum stimulated the stomach juices, and so made you hungrier, which made you fat. And if you didn't eat, those stomach juices gave you ulcers. Plus, sugar-free gum contains aspartame, which is the only sugar substitute with its own crack legal team (maltisol is on legal aid, so far as I know), so I know from experience that if I say anything about it there will be trouble.
So it's no good for the dieters, and no good for the health-conscious, who are often just dieters in a not-very-convincing Lycra disguise. As an unhealthy, fattening treat, though, it's really not much of a treat, and almost everything on the open market is more satisfying, even a Tic Tac.
The only possible accounting for the continued popularity of gum is nostalgia. The mystery is not why the market is declining, but why it isn't declining faster.