You don’t launch a new brand in the gum category by calling the buyer at Walmart and asking nicely for some shelf-space at the checkout between Juicy Fruit and Trident, observes the founder of aspartame-free PÜR Gum.
You start small, says Action Candy Company CEO Jay Klein, create a product that really hits the mark, and play the long game: “We had a slow process, like running for mayor in a small town, and we were very patient. We don’t compete where we can’t win. You have to be creative and resourceful, so we came up with marketing campaigns like 'Kick aspartame'.
And the figures speak for themselves, he says.
From a standing start in May 2010, when Klein first started knocking on doors at local stores in Toronto, retail sales of xylitol-sweetened PÜR Gum are now approaching $10m, and it’s stocked in almost 10,000 stores in 12 countries, from the US to the UK, Germany, Australia and the Philippines.
We don’t compete where we can’t win
If current trends continue - SPINS data shows PÜR is clocking truly meteoric growth rates while sales growth for the category’s biggest guns is going backwards - he’s hoping to be in 50,000 outlets and 30-40 countries in the next two to three years.
Not bad going considering he entered one of the most competitive categories in grocery dominated by two CPG monsters Wrigley (Mars) and Cadbury (Kraft), which has also found itself in a bit of a funk of late.
And while the initial focus was on independent stores and natural channel specialists such as Whole Foods and Sprouts (instead of gas stations, c-stores and mass market grocery chains), more mainstream retailers are now waking up to the opportunity given the kind of growth that PÜR Gum is chalking up, he says.
“We’re at all the front-end checkout lanes at Meijer now. We’re not at the Walmart checkout yet, but if the buyer is reading this and wants to give me a call … We’ve also done really well with Amazon.”
As for new products, he’s keeping his cards close to his chest, but confirms that he’s looking beyond gum.
We didn’t want to settle for a mediocre product with nice packaging
So what’s so special about PÜR?
Despite the premium feel, the focus on xylitol (each 1.4g pellet contains 1g of xylitol from non-GMO corn) instead of aspartame as a sweetener and the clean-label credentials (no artificial colors or flavors ), PÜR Gum sells because it delivers, he says.
The core flavors - spearmint, peppermint, wintergreen and pomegranate mint - keep their flavor and freshen breath, and the product (which is manufactured in Switzerland) comes with an affordable price tag.
Unlike some other recent entrants to the premium end of the gum market, for example, he did not use chicle (sap from Sapodilla trees) as a gum base - despite its all-natural credentials and great story - because it creates technical headaches and does not deliver on a sensory front, he claims.
“We didn’t want to settle for a mediocre product with nice packaging.”
I want people to say PÜR Gum is my brand
As a result of all the hard work spent on getting the product right, people that buy PÜR Gum for the first time come back and buy it again, says Klein, who set up his first business (a marketing company called Drivertise International he still runs today) at college.
When people find a brand of gum they like, they stick with it, he says. “I want people to say PÜR Gum is my brand.”
But growth is not just coming from people switching their allegiance, he says. “We’re bringing in new people to the gum category.”
So who’s buying it?
Health-conscious women, pregnant women that are avoiding aspartame, diabetics (xylitol does not raise blood sugar), parents, anyone avoiding ‘chemicals’ - and well, people that like gum, he says.
In some cases it’s stocked at the checkout, in others it’s in the natural section alongside nutrition bars and health foods, he says.
“It all depends on the retailer, but in some stores we’d rather be in the section that health-conscious people are shopping than competing to get one 20th of the gum fixture at the checkout.”