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Gum sales drop to about half, losing out to increasing competition

Gum is sold at a convenience store in Tokyo, on June 11, 2018. (Mainichi)
Racks display gummy snacks at the top and gum on the bottom shelf at a convenience store in Tokyo, on June 11, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Gum sales dwindled to about half of the candy's peak in 2017, falling to the lowest rank among all snacks, and some are saying the rise of things like convenience store coffee and cellphones are behind the fall of the long-loved commodity.

On the shelves of a convenience store in Tokyo, gummies are placed right at eye-level -- where they stand out the most -- with hard candy below them, and gum placed at the very bottom of the racks. The reason for this particular order is because "gummies are performing quite well," a convenience store employee explains. The positioning of products in convenience stores is a strict reflection of sales performance.

In fact, according to the Japan Chewing Gum Association, retail sales of gum in 2017 came to roughly 100.5 billion yen, and these numbers have been dropping for the last 10 years -- now only 47 percent of peak sales in 2004.

However, the fall of gum does not necessarily mean that sales of snacks are decreasing as a whole. According to All Nippon Kashi Association (ANKA), the sale of chocolate has increased by 35 percent and other snacks by 19 percent since 2004. Overall, snack foods have seen about 8 percent market growth overall.

"There are many people who feel they have just stopped buying gum for no reason," commented a spokesperson from the public relations department of Japan's biggest domestic snack provider Lotte Co.

Experts have their sights set on coffee sold at convenience store counters as a possible explanation for the fall in the popularity of gum. Like chewing gum, coffee plays a similar role waking up and refreshing consumers. On top of that, convenience store coffee pulls in customers with its positioning near the register and its low cost at around 100 yen a cup.

Lotte Co.'s gum that is less likely to stick to the teeth and claims to boost memory retention that was released in September 2017. (Photo courtesy of Lotte Co.)

A change in the demographics of Japan is also considered to be another reason for the decrease in the sales of gum. "Baby boomers (who enjoyed chewing gum in the past) have stopped chewing gum to stave off bad breath since they don't go out to meet others as much after retirement," suggested the Lotte representative.

Surprisingly, smartphones are on par with coffee as one of gum's biggest competitors. The sale of gum fell sharply between 2011 and 2014, precisely when smartphones became widespread in Japan. This has led some to suspect that people are killing time on their phones instead of chewing gum.

"Both gum and smartphones are used when people are on the go," explains one employee at Japan's second largest snack provider, Mondelez Japan. "We pay close attention to the correlation between the two."

Mondelez Japan's "Clorets" package featuring popular anime franchise character "Lupin the Third" released in April 2018 is seen. (Photo courtesy of Mondelez Japan)

Along these lines, companies marketing gum are now shifting to strategies that target particular age groups. Last September, Lotte came up with a gum aimed at middle-aged and senior consumers that was not only less likely to stick to their teeth, but also contained a substance that boosts memory retention. The gum sold 1.4 times more than expected. This April, Mondelez also introduced "Clorets" gum featuring the popular anime character "Lupin the Third." The company is also trying their hand at putting out more attractive packaging in hopes of attracting a wider range of age groups.

"There is an increased risk of people completely turning away from gum entirely if children stop chewing gum," said journalist Arata Hibiya, a specialist on convenience stores. "First, efforts need to be made so that children are familiar with gum."

(Japanese original by Hiroki Masuda, General Digital News Center)

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