By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine
The British have always been a bit sniffy about chewing gum. But with the multi-million pound launch of an American brand, could our reserve about the sticky stuff be coming unstuck?
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Although it's been around for decades in the UK, chewing gum has always embodied a certain loucheness of character in some eyes.
But attitudes seem to be changing - a fact that confectionary firm Cadbury will be pleased to note as it embarks on the multi-million pound launch of a new brand of gum on British shelves.
The chocolate maker is spending £10m launching Trident, an American brand which is the number two in the world behind Orbit, made by Wrigley. It is Cadbury's biggest single product launch.
For years, chewing gum in the UK has been dominated by just one name, Wrigley, which makes 98% of all gum sold in this country.
But while gum sales the world over are rising, Brits have yet to embrace it big time. Indeed, sales have fallen in the last two years.
Britain's more formal culture - its stiff upper lip - is one factor cited in the slower uptake of gum in the UK. In America chewing gum has become a cultural symbol to match the likes of Coca-Cola, while over here most people think it looks "common" and "uncouth", according to government research. And that includes the 50% of the population who chew it.
WHAT WE CHEW
US - Up to 180 servings a year
UK - Up to 130 servings a year
TAIWAN - Up to 100 servings a year
RUSSIA - Up to 50 servings a year
CHINA - Up to 20 servings a year
Gum manufacturers argue that growing sales - until recently at least - reflect Britain's more "relaxed attitude" and the rise of the social acceptability of gum.
"It's now an accepted part of society," says a spokesman for Cadbury. "It's something that some people would not have done 20 or 30 years ago, whereas now they will."
For some it still optimises the decline in standards, especially among young people. How much is spat out on to the pavement is rapidly becoming a national obsession. The issue even has its own government-run action group.
But while 13- to 14-year-old children buy the most chewing gum, it is the middle-aged who have driven market growth in the UK, says research firm Mintel. Nearly half of people aged between 45 and 54 chewed gum in 2005, twice as many as in that age group in 1975. Three-quarters of children aged between seven and 14 indulged last year, slightly down on previous years.
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All of these mixed messages make advertising gum a tricky proposition in the UK. But the industry is promoting its "health benefits" in a bid to get away from the image of gum as sweet and sickly. Sugar-free brands now make up three-quarters of the total market.
"It's become more relevant to today's consumer," says a spokesman for Mintel. "People are thinking it's a two-in-one fix - a sweet fix and cleaning your teeth or freshening breath at the same time."
So how to explain the recent fall in sales? New kid Cadbury blames a lack of new ideas. Wrigley says it has a track record of innovation but welcomes the new competition.
It is planning the launch of what's said to be Britain's first "liquid filled" chewing gum, Extra Ice with a "Liquid Burst".
"We think competition is healthy for Wrigley, it sharpens our edge and fuels our drive to win," says a spokesman for the company.
If the recent development of an appetite-suppressing chewing gum - which can be used as a slimming aid - is anything to go by, innovation in the chewing gum market could prove lucrative.
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