O gum, which is coming off a tough year for retail sales, is back in consumption as Americans begin to take off their masks and worry more about good breath.
With eased restrictions and fees for vaccination increasing, US gum sales have started to pick up recently, according to NielsenIQ data. The turnaround comes after two consecutive years of declines for the 12-month periods ending in May, a sign that consumer behavior is slowly returning to normal.
The increase in gum spending is a welcome change for companies like the maker of the Trident, Mondelez International, Wrigley, from Mars, and Tootsie Roll Industries, which produces the Dubble Bubble.
And it’s not just inflation that drives the jump in total sales, although unit prices soar. The price of the average pack of gum sold in May was $2.11, data show, compared to $2.05 at the beginning of the year. The number of packs sold has also increased, with Americans buying nearly 15 million more packs of gum in May compared with January 2021 levels.
Demand for chewing gum decreased during the pandemic for clear reasons: Americans didn’t often go out or socialize, and the need for masks and the six-foot distance meant consumers didn’t need the minty freshness they had in pre-pandemic times. The nascent rally in recent weeks also reflects comparisons with the first weeks of the 2020 lockdowns, when demand for many non-essentials declined dramatically, meaning there is still more room to grow.
Mondelez has made a return to near pre-Covid levels a “number one priority” in the chewing gum business, Chief Financial Officer Luca Zaramella told a conference last month. The chewing gum unit may be ready for sale if it fails to recover. “We have to fix the deal and then potentially assess whether there are other ways to create more value for Mondelez shareholders.”
Mondelez, Mars and Tootsie Roll did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Restricted consumer mobility over the past year has especially impacted the category, as “75% of gum consumption is on the street,” said Dirk Van De Put, CEO of Mondelez, at a conference in late 2020. “Because you are on your way on public transport or in your car, at work, you’re leaving – these are typically times of chewing gum. But we also saw that, in a crisis, there is a lot more stress and anxiety, and chewing gum can be a relief.”