March 20, 2014 at 1:29 PM ET
Gum seems as appealing as that sticky wad on the bottom of a shoe these days.
It's not that Americans still don't ever enjoy a stick of Trident or Orbit, the two most popular brands. They just aren't as crazy about chomping away on the stuff as they once were, with U.S. sales tumbling 11 percent over the past four years.
No one in the industry can pinpoint a single factor that's causing the decline — the theories include an unwillingness to shell out $2 or more for a pack in the bad economy or that advertising veered too far from underlining gum's cavity-fighting benefits. But the biggest reason may be that people simply have more to chew on.
From designer mints to fruit chews, candy companies have invented plenty of other ways to get a sugar fix or battle bad breath and anxiety. The alternatives don't come with gum's unpleasant characteristics either, like the question of whether to spit out or gulp the remains. They're also less likely to annoy parents, co-workers or romantic interests.
The gum chewing habit dates as far back as the ancient Greeks but arrived in the U.S. in its modern form in the 1860s, according to Mars Inc., the No. 1 player in the market with its Wrigley unit.
Over the years, gum makers positioned it as a way to "Kiss a Little Longer" in the famous Big Red jingle, quit smoking, curb cravings or just make the chewer happier. Catchy slogans or characters included the "Doublemint Twins" and Orbit's blonde spokeswoman who ends commercials with, "Dirty mouth? Clean it up."
But gum's image as a tasteless habit also stuck.
Since peaking in 2009, U.S. gum sales have fallen 11 percent to $3.71 billion last year, according to market researcher Euromonitor International. That's even as overall candy sales — including gum, chocolate, mints and licorice — have climbed 10 percent to $31.53 billion. Over the next five years, Euromonitor projects gum sales will drop another 4 percent to $3.56 billion.