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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 May 2007, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
The chewing gum war
By Charles Miller
BBC Money Programme

Man cleaning pavement
Cadbury Schweppes believe education is the key to litter

Chewing gum is at the centre of a retail battle between Wrigley, the dominant player in Britain for decades, and Cadbury, the world's biggest confectionary company. At stake is the 250m a year the British spend on gum.

Cadbury launched four Trident products in Britain in February. They appeared on newsagents shelves alongside the 32 gum products sold by Wrigley.

Cadbury's campaign hit the headlines two months later when the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned its TV advertisement for Trident featuring a "dub poet" enthusing about Trident on stage in a nightclub.

The ASA received more than 500 complaints that the ad was racist in its stereotyping of the over-excited, Jamaican-style character.

Now Cadbury Trebor Bassett's managing director, Simon Baldry, tells the Money Programme that he wants to apologise for the advert.

"It was never our intention to offend anyone," he says.

Gum is fun
Jim Cali
Director of Global Gum

"If we have offended people then clearly we would like to apologise for that."

But he denies the campaign was intended to stir up controversy.

"Let me be very clear, controversy was never part of launching this brand. Many consumers love this ad and it's been a great vehicle for us to communicate to the nation about a great new gum experience."

Fun race

Five years ago, Cadbury bought into gum with its purchase of Adams, an American gum company, which, like Wrigley, has its roots in the 19th Century.

Adams products, such as Trident, Dentyne and Certs, were big sellers in the US and elsewhere, but were not sold in Britain.

The attraction of Adams for Cadbury was that gum sales are growing at three times the rate of chocolate, a Cadbury staple.

Chewing gum

But the UK was a market out of step with global growth.

"Britain had been chewing below its weight," says Cadbury's Director of Global Gum, Jim Cali. Here, gum sales had actually fallen by 4% in the past two years.

Wrigley says it anticipated Cadbury's move into its territory. "We've been expecting it for a number of years, since they've been buying gum companies around the world," says Gharry Eccles, managing director of Wrigley UK.

And Mr Eccles says he would relish the prospect of increased competition.

"If you're running a race, running it on your own is actually no fun," he says.

"When you're running against someone it becomes a whole new ball game, and a lot more fun."

Pleasure and indulgence

Cadbury does not appear to have been harmed by its controversial campaign.

According to the latest market figures from AC Neilsen, Trident is taking a 12.5% share of the market, leaving Wrigley with a still-dominant 86.3%.

Cadbury is the world's biggest chocolate company

The good news for both companies is that the 250m total gum market is up almost 20% on this time last year and Wrigley itself has grown its sales by 5%, with new products such as Orbit Complete.

Both companies have been seeking to differentiate themselves.

Cadbury wants to stress how it is bringing its confectionary experience to the chewing gum business.

"Pleasure and indulgence is what we know best," declares Mr Baldry.

"It's our expertise in our total confectionary field, and we're bringing that to the gum category too."

Agrees Mr Cali: "Gum is fun."

Health benefits?

Wrigley is anxious not to be painted as the functional alternative to the indulgence of Cadbury, but nevertheless has set up a research programme under the title The Wrigley Science Institute.

Based in Chicago, its head, Gilbert Leveille, sponsors research at universities around the world, looking for health benefits of chewing gum.

So far, they have established that gum can help reduce tooth decay, but have yet to confirm some of the newer claims, such as that chewing during learning can improve memory.

Mr Leveille is hopeful, explaining that "chewing gum increases blood flow to the brain very significantly, and that could be a plausible explanation for why some of these mental benefits seem to be associated with chewing gum".

The irony is that Trident, whose name in Britain today reminds people of missiles rather than mastication, was originally named in the 1960's because it contained three ingredients that were supposed to be good for your teeth - hence "tri-dent".

Fighting litter

For all the competition between the two companies, on the question of chewing gum litter, Wrigley and Cadbury are united.

Both companies want to keep regulation at bay and are cooperating with a government initiative to control litter.

Under the auspices of Defra (The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), the companies are represented on the so-called Chewing Gum Action Group.

The Group, with a budget of 600,000 provided by the manufacturers, helps local authorities publicise anti-gum litter messages.

Defra minister Ben Bradshaw is responsible for dealing with the litter problem, and says his department has been "working very closely with the chewing gum manufacturers".

Mr Bradshaw accepts the manufacturers' argument that the problem lies with consumers, rather than being the direct responsibility of chewing gum makers.

"We don't want to penalise a legal product that the public enjoy, but we want to try and change people's behaviour when they use that product," he says.

But anti-gum campaigners such as Westminster Councillor Alan Bradley, are unimpressed, describing the Defra group as "dancing to the manufacturers' tune".

He points to a similar group in Ireland that has a higher budget per capita, and will be active in all local authorities, rather than in just the 15 a year in the UK that the Defra group is targeting.

There is no sign of a limit to the global consumption of gum. Indeed, Wrigley's sales worldwide are up by almost 30% in its latest figures.

When William Wrigley settled on gum as the way to make his fortune in Chicago at the end of the 19th Century, he had no idea that the brands he created - Juicy Fruit, Spearmint and Doublemint - would still be growing, more than a century later.

The Money Programme: The chewing gum war, Friday 25 May at 1900 on BBC Two.

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