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Chicle gum distributor urges Australians to stop chewing on plastic

By Oliver Nieburg+

01-Aug-2013
Last updated on 01-Aug-2013 at 12:33 GMT

Chicza Organic Rainforest uses tree sap chicle as a gum base, which was abandoned by most companies decades ago in favor of cheap polymers
Chicza Organic Rainforest uses tree sap chicle as a gum base, which was abandoned by most companies decades ago in favor of cheap polymers

The distributor of Chicza, an organic biodegradable chewing gum made from tree sap, is hoping to capitalize on the growing popularity of organic and sustainable products in Australia and is urging consumers to stop chewing gum made from synthetic polymers.

Two decades ago most companies used the tree sap chicle as the base in chewing gum, but almost all had made the switch to cheaper plastic gum polymers by the early Nineties.

‘No option but to chew on plastic’

Maria Drakopoulos, co-founder of Organic Imports, which is distributing the product in Australia, where it was recently launched, told ConfectioneryNews: “Up until now we have had no other option than to chew on plastic, every chewing gum on the market is plastic with added toxins. This is providing an alternative.”

Chicza is currently produced and sold in Mexico as well as many retail chains throughout Europe, North America and UK, where it is on shelves in Sainsbury stores.

Australians looking for sustainably produced products

Drakopoulos said that the main market for Chicza Organic Rainforest gum was in Europe, “because they are so progressed in the organic market”.

“But Australia is one of the highest growing markets for organic and sustainable products."

Other Chicle gums

Mondelez still produces a chicle-based gum called Chiclets for some markets in North Africa and the Middle East. US firm Glee Gum also uses chicle in its products.

Organic Imports is targeting health food and organic stores in Australia, but also has distribution in some supermarkets such as IGA (Independent Grocers of Australia), which has 14,000 stores across the country.

Sustainable production

Chicle grows on chicozapote trees in Mexico. It is collected from the Yucatan rainforest and the trees are only harvested every seven to eight years.

“It’s made out of sap, so it’s basically the resin that comes out of the tree,” said Drakopoulos.

The 10,000 chicle farmers and their families which supply Mexican firm Chicza are all shareholders in the company.

“Being a co-op, it is beyond fair-trade, the farmers own their own company,” said Drakopoulos.

Chicle is derived from the sap of chicozapote trees, which grow in the Mexican rainforest

Asked if she was worried that Wrigley may simply make a chicle gum of its own, Drakopoulos said: “It would be great to have the market switch back to their original state. It’s good for the environment and you have to look to the future of the environment.”

“Now it’s all about mass production with little regard for the environment and the people.”

Flavors and ingredients

Chicza produces four flavors: mint, spearmint, lime and cinnamon, which are all derived from ‘natural’ sources.

The gum contains no aspartame and is sweetened with evaporated cane juice.

“The texture is very different to normal chewing gum,” said Drakopoulos, adding that flavor lasted for as long as polymer-based gums and didn’t stick to dentures like other gums.

Price barrier?

The gum retails in Australia for A$3.95 ($3.57) for a 12-piece slab pack.

One of the world’s bestselling premium gums, Wrigley 5 retails in the US for between $1.59 - $1.79 for 15-stick pack.

Drakopoulos conceded that the price was much higher, but said consumers were willing to pay the premium for an organic and sustainably-produced product.

Biodegradability

The gum is biodegradable and Chicza claims the product will turn to dust within a matter of weeks if left on busy city center streets.

Wrigley and Mondelez, which together command over 60% of the global gum market, have both identified degradable non-sticky gum as an R&D priority  to alleviate growing concerns over gum littering and taxes designed to curb the problem.

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