Wrigley fields new pitch: Gum aids memory, stress

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Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. is hoping to reverse schoolmarms' decades-old admonitions against chewing gum by portraying it as a healthful activity.

Faced with a flat market and high earnings targets, Wrigley has assembled a monograph of medical studies discussing purported physical and physiological benefits of chewing, including improved memory, stress relief and dental health.

CEO William Wrigley Jr. said at the company's annual meeting this spring that it planned to stump the benefits of chewing. "We plan to build awareness of this research," he said. How isn't known, since Wrigley hasn't disclosed details of its plan to tout the message, and company spokespeople didn't return calls. But the next step is to draw attention to these findings, most likely through a public relations campaign.

Christie Nordhielm, a marketing professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, says the company's best tack would be to support the effort with public relations, possibly involving doctors, to generate word of mouth. Health claims made in advertising, she said, even if true, wouldn't be as believable. Consumers "are more likely to believe a doctor as opposed to a 30-second TV commercial," Ms. Nordhielm said.

mature business

Wrigley wants to boost consumption of chewing gum, a mature business. In 2003, chewing gum unit sales eked out a mere 0.2% increase, according to figures from Information Resources Inc., in food drug and mass merchandisers excluding Wal-Mart.

Expanding the category is important because Mr. Wrigley has promised to deliver 9% to 11% earnings growth in the years ahead. The company has averaged 9% earnings growth each year since 1999.

The Americas, principally the U.S., represented $1.19 billion of the company's 2003 sales, 39% of the total. Despite efforts to diversify-earlier this year the company launched breath mints under its Eclipse brand-the bulk of U.S. sales are tied to chewing gum.

Another reason to try to increase overall gum consumption: London-based beverage and confectionery giant Cadbury Schweppes acquired the Adams gum brands, including Chiclets and Dentyne, from Pfizer and is expected to be a more aggressive marketer.

Indeed, Cadbury Adams USA is breaking a new ad campaign in support of Chiclets this week from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, New York.

Wrigley has company among food marketers trying to tout health benefits related to respective products. Associations for the beef, chocolate and spirits industries have tried to cast their wares in a healthy light (AA, Jan. 27, 2003).

According to a memo provided by Wrigley, the monograph explores the impact of chewing on blood flow, stress relief, learning, salivary flow and reflux. Chewing is credited with stimulating blood flow; alleviating stress; and increasing salivary flow, which improves oral care. One study included in the monograph found associations between chewing gum and improved memory performance, although the reasons are not clearly understood.

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