With four children at home, Maurice Herrera knows how fickle kids can be. And when he goes to work, the Kraft Foods senior director for U.S. gum marketing must deal with many more youngsters -- the thousands of teenagers whose passing fancies and fickle gum-buying habits can make or break his year.
As of late, the kids are giving him some trouble, or so the sales data would suggest. Stride, Kraft's five-year old gum brand meant to appeal to teens and young adults, is in a slump. Sales dropped 17% in the year ending April 17, with the brand falling from fourth to fifth place in market share at 7.4%, according to SymphonyIRI.
So how do you get the attention of a teenager? You shake things up, of course, which is what Stride is doing with a new TV campaign by JWT, New York, launching Monday and starring extreme sports star Shaun White. At the same time, the gum has revamped its packaging, improved flavors and even taken on a new name meant to create the kind of excitement teens feel with the latest tech gadget launch -- "Stride 2.0."
"Gum is social currency, it just is . And so the latest and greatest gum that 's out there is something this consumer base wants to get their hands on," Mr. Herrera said. "We constantly need to entertain and even look to ways of reinventing ourselves so we maintain their loyalty and interest level."
Stride's biggest nemesis might be the newest kid on the block, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.'s 5 gum. The brand launched in 2007 and has shot up the sales charts thanks to its chic black packaging and image-based "stimulate your senses" campaign by Energy BBDO, Chicago. It was only a year earlier that Stride was the getting all the buzz when it launched with its hip reclosable packs and cool-sounding flavors like Winterblue, later adding varieties such as Uber Bubble and Mega Mystery. Earlier this year, Stride launched Stride Spark, which comes in two flavors, called Kinetic Mint and Kinetic Fruit, that are infused with vitamins B6 and B12.
But the brand is still losing ground, surpassed recently by Wrigley's Extra, which as of April had 8.28% share compared with 7.44% for Stride. Wrigley's 5, meantime, had sales jump by 3% and now has 12.84% share, edging closer to the No. 2 brand, Kraft's Trident, which has 12.95% share. Wrigley's Orbit is the top gum with 15.2% share, although its sales fell 3% in the year ending April 17, according to SymphonyIRI.
Kraft took control of Stride last year when it acquired Cadbury and since then has been challenging Mars Inc.-owned Wrigley for global gum domination. As Crain's Chicago Business recently reported, Kraft has made gains, controlling 29.2% of the international market as of 2009, but still trails Wrigley, which has 33.7% globally, according to the latest data available.
Both companies are at the mercy of teenagers, who are key demographic for gum makers because most people begin forming their gum preferences at age 13, said NPD food industry analyst Harry Balzer. "Gum becomes one of those things that is part of that rite of passage," he said, as teens make "the choice of what brands [they] are going to consume."
Stride is counting on snowboarding and skateboarding king Mr. White to bring it some new attention, while reinforcing its position as a "ridiculously long-lasting gum." In the new ad, a Stride marketer chases a man through a mall, urging him to try the new version of gum, but the gum-chewing man resists, saying his original Stride "still has flavor." He's then tackled onto the top of a van, and a pack of the new gum is slapped onto his chest. Mr. White then drives the getaway van, smashing trough a mall window. This is Mr. White's first appearance in a Stride ad since inking a deal earlier this year to become the brand's spokesperson.
Stride 2.0 still comes in the same 15 flavors as the earlier version, but eight of the flavors have been upgraded to give a better "chewing experience and taste profile," Mr. Herrera said. Also, pieces are now wrapped in foil instead of paper, while the package redesign includes an image of a zipper on the front.
Gum is "very much of an impulse category," Mr. Herrera said. "We need it to pop at the shelf."
Of course, consumers will be the ultimate judge, including Mr. Herrera's kids. His oldest is 12, on the cusp of becoming a teenager. "My kids are definitely a little bit of an early read on ideas that may be pretty damn good or not so good," Mr. Herrera said.