Here’s something to chew over: the global energy gum market in 2016 was valued at $75.15m (£59.1m). According to Allied Market Research, that’s projected to grow to $125.24m (£98.49) by 2023.
Functional food in general is a burgeoning market, and the majority of growth in the functional confectionery category in particular is expected to come from Europe and the United States. Food Spark has previously talked about boosting chocolate and protein-powered sweets. Now, we’re talking about performance-enhancing gum – in the non-steroidal sense, of course.
Originally launched in 2013, Blockhead recently secured a listing for two products, Energy Gum and Vitamin Gum, in Morrisons nationwide. The SKUs (RRP £1.99/10-piece pack) are now available in almost 2,000 retailer outlets, including branches of WHSmith and Holland & Barrett, as well as online big boys Amazon and Ocado. No other functional chewing gum has achieved such widespread distribution thus far.
There’s been a notable uptick in brands targeting the energy gum market in the past five years, as more people across the world hit the gym. But what Blockhead founder Danny Lowe hopes to achieve is to take the product beyond fitness enthusiasts to the much wider population of office workers.
“What I find really interesting is how sport has so much research into nutrition, and yet everything else, everyday life nutrition, you never look at it from a performance perspective,” Lowe tells Food Spark. “What I really like the idea of is looking at the everyday challenges in different bits of your day-to-day life and how you can improve an aspect of it. So how the Energy Gum, for example, could be that thing that gives you a pick-me-up before a 3pm meeting.”
Blockhead’s no dummy
Science forms the basis of the Blockhead concept. The gums in a person’s mouth are a more rapid conduit for delivering nutrients to the blood stream. After five minutes of chewing, the contents will begin to take effect.
Straightforwardly branded, the peppermint-flavoured Energy Gum contains a mixture of caffeine, ginseng and B vitamins – among them notably B12, which vegetarians and vegans often lack in their diets.
The lemony Vitamin Gum, meanwhile, lives up to its name with a combo of vitamins A, B and C, though it particularly targets D.
“I was quite startled how the UK was so deficient in vitamin D levels, with people not getting enough sunlight,” says Lowe, who has friends doings PhDs on the subject. Two pieces of the Vitamin Gum are enough to fill an individual’s entire daily quota.
Both products are sugar-free, using sweeteners instead.
Why gum instead of another confectionery format? “If you make it into, say, a gummy form, you can effectively swallow that whole,” explains Lowe. “You don’t necessarily chew that for a set period of time, whereas with gum you can deliver that dose over a period of five minutes.”
That’s not to say there aren’t drawbacks to focusing on chewing gum. “We’re limited by size, effectively, because we have to have a certain amount of it being gum base. So we can’t go too big on the mineral front – the herbal stuff is kind of out of the question when it gets too big,” says Lowe. “The other bit is actually how it sticks together itself… that also limits us.”
Blockhead’s gum is made using cold pressing, so that any heat-sensitive ingredients won’t be destroyed in the manufacturing process. It also means the gum is separate from the active ingredient, allowing the release of energy or vitamins to be tailored more effectively.
Gumming up the works
There are challenges to the energy gum market, in particular related to the use of caffeine. Wrigley pulled its Alert Caffeine Gum months after launching it in 2013 due to an investigation into health-related issues with the stimulant by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It relaunched last year with exactly the same recipe in light of the FDA’s lack of regulatory action. Each serving of Alert contains 40mg of caffeine, while each piece of Blockhead contains 50mg.
Nevertheless, the category is growing, with many brands entering the field, particularly Stateside, where Energy Bombs, Jolt and Military Gum all target the sports market. In the UK, Military Gum is on sale via Amazon alongside compatriot Blast Powergum as well as German Fitgum.
Germany also has a high-profile variant from ‘premium gum’ company Kerry, which is targeting Asia, while in New Zealand a brand called Zestel has sewn up the market.
Wrigley’s biggest competitor, Mondelez, has a B vitamin-fuelled product called Stride Spark Gum.
Arguably, the biggest problem with launching any chewing gum at the moment is with plastic. Most of the big brands include non-biodegradable polymers in their product, which has led to a backlash in the virulently anti-plastic pollution environment of today. It’s estimated that it costs local government £60m a year to remove gum off the streets.
Several companies have returned to older, more natural techniques to remedy this issue, including Iceland, which recently launched a brand called Simply Gum made from chicle, which is biodegradable.
The UK chewing gum category as a whole lost 3.8% of its value sales last year, but adding function could be an avenue to salve the wound.
Blockhead isn’t planning to stay stuck on gum, however, and is exploring “anything that provides a benefit in a confectionery format,” according to Lowe. “It’s proper Charlie and the Chocolate Factory stuff,” he adds, noting that he already has several ideas lined up ready for next year.