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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Gum sales have dropped 11 percent since 2009.

As sales of gum recede, theories get chewed on

American’s love of chewing gum is fading like the flavor in a 5-minute-old stick of Juicy Fruit.

Since peaking in 2009, U.S. gum sales have fallen 11 percent to $3.71 billion last year, according to market researcher Euromonitor International.

And it’s not as though consumers aren’t feeding their oral fixations. Overall candy sales – including gum, chocolate, mints and licorice – have climbed 10 percent to $31.53 billion.

Sure, gum meets a need. It battles bad breath and allows chewers to relieve anxiety. But it’s not the only option. Designer mints and fruit chews do the job and are less likely to create a sticky social situation with co-workers or romantic interests.

Over the years, marketers have positioned gum as a way to be more kissable, quit smoking, curb cravings or just be happier.

But the message apparently isn’t sticking. Gum’s outlook isn’t promising, either. Euromonitor projects sales will drop another 4 percent to $3.56 billion over the next five years.

Shirona Gunawardhana has some theories.

The local entrepreneur wonders whether the national backlash against food additives and polysyllabic ingredients has driven more people to just say no to gum.

Juicy Fruit, for example, contains phenylalanine, which is an amino acid, according to WebMD.

The only place Gunawardhana can find natural chewing gum is a health food store and, unfortunately, the 47-year-old doesn’t stop by those retailers frequently.

Dr. Catherine Periolat searches out one particular ingredient: Xylitol.

The local dentist said sugar-free gum with that ingredient helps prevent cavities. That’s not true for just any sugar-free gum, she said.

Despite gum’s sometimes sullied reputation, Periolat loves the stuff.

“I know my limits,” she said, citing jaw pain. “I really have to watch it. If it starts to hurt, I have to stop.”

The mother of two doesn’t discourage her teens from chewing the sugar-free version.

Marie DeWeese, an elementary school teacher and mother of six, lives in Warren.

Her students – first- and second-graders – reliably follow the rules that forbid gum at school. If they forget, they’re good about spitting out the wad right away into the classroom trash can, DeWeese said.

As for her children, DeWeese doesn’t mind if they chew the sugar-free Trident she buys at the grocery. Trident, by the way, joins Orbit as the two most popular brands. “There definitely are bigger battles (to fight) than chewing gum,” she said.

But the workplace can be a different story. Gunawardhana is founder of logpipe, an online reputation management company that interacts with many of its customers digitally.

He doesn’t mind if his tech-minded staff chews gum when working behind the scenes. But he doesn’t approve of employees chomping away during meetings with clients. “It’s not respectful,” he said.

Even more relaxed workplaces might be gum-shy because of the stubbornly slow recovery, Gunawardhana said.

“In most industries when the economy is really good, you let your employees pretty much do whatever they want. It’s like the Wild, Wild West,” he said.

But when times are tight, employers tend to strictly enforce rules, including dress codes, Gunawardhana said. Supervisors don’t want to risk the possibility that a worker’s gum-snapping ways might drive away a customer.

sslater@jg.net

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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