NEW STAY ALERT GUM GIVES BUZZ INSTEAD OF BUBBLES: WRIGLEY'S AMUROL PUTS CAFFEINE IN PRODUCT TO WAKE UP MARKET

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As if a double espresso weren't enough, there are supercharged colas and even caffeine-spiked water. Now the world's largest chewing gum marketer is getting into the act by introducing the first caffeine-packed gum.

Aiming to capitalize on what it sees as "the similar profile" of gum chewers and caffeine seekers, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.'s Amurol Confections Co. subsidiary has developed a product aimed at the estimated 36.2 million commuters, truck drivers, college students, and coffee and cola drinkers hankering for a caffeine buzz.

With the new Stay Alert, Amurol -- best known for children's novelties such as Bubble Tape and Big League Chew -- is out to carve a niche in a category it perfunctorily refers to as "functional" gum.

TO FIGHT MINTS

Wrigley, with 54% of the U.S. chewing gum market, is hoping the new product will perk up domestic sales, which have declined as mints replace chewing gum as the breath freshener of choice.

In 1997, industry sales fell almost 6% compared with 1996, according to Information Resources Inc., while breath mint sales rose more than 10%.

But Amurol faces hurdles. Caffeine-packed products such as Jolt cola and Water Joe haven't made it into the mainstream.

However, Amurol CEO A.G. Atwater said "it's a natural to put caffeine in gum."

Amurol cites studies showing that as Americans work longer hours, they often cut back on sleep and need a pick-me-up.

"While we are basically a children's novelty company, we have to avoid cannibalizing our existing business," Mr. Atwater said. "We feel now is the time to diversify our product portfolio."

ADS BREAK IN AUGUST

The marketer plans a radio, print and outdoor ad effort for Stay Alert to break in late August from Wrigley agency BBDO, Chicago.

The company isn't disclosing spending, but Wrigley routinely spends $8 million to $10 million on new products.

Stay Alert, in mint and cinnamon flavors, is sold in five-stick packs with a warning on the label not to exceed four sticks in 3 to 4 hours. Each stick contains 50 milligrams of caffeine -- the equivalent of one cup of coffee.

GOAL TO BUILD NAT'L BRAND

"Our goal is to build Stay Alert into a national brand," said Bruce D. Thompson, Amurol's VP-marketing. "We were looking for ways to use gum technology to meet consumers' needs, and one obvious trend is the shift toward hectic lifestyles and the need to remain alert."

Plans are in the works to introduce additional adult novelty chewing gums. Among the candidates: weight-reduction and decongestant gum products.

Although Amurol accounts for just 5% of Wrigley's annual sales, industry analysts said products such as Stay Alert could help reinvigorate the overall business.

"I think the fact that they're willing to experiment with new products is a good thing," said Eric Katzman, an analyst with Merrill Lynch Global Securities. "The company has a tremendously successful track record with new products, which can often be higher-margin items and could spur interest in the category."

"[Stay Alert] should do very, very well," said industry consultant Robert Boutin, exec VP of Knechtel Research Sciences. "Is it a fad? I don't know. Do I think it could lead to a lot of new business for Amurol? Probably."

Ms. Rewick is associate editor at Crain's Chicago Business.

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