The business - established in Lebanon in the 1960s – is selling the gourmet product through its Cheque chewing gum brand.
The family owned and operated firm also sees export opportunities for a separate luxury gum made with natural mastic named Mastika.
MENA gum market: ‘Things are complicated’
Nael Shaar, managing partner and marketing strategist at Master Chewing Gum & Candies, told ConfectioneryNews that MENA, along with Asia-Pacific and Latin America, was seen as a future growth driver in global gum.
“But things are complicated,” he said. “The local markets in the MENA region are being reshuffled.”
He said Syria’s chewing gum sales volumes once matched entire volumes sold in GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries and Jordan. But the nation has been in a civil war since 2011.
“Most North African countries are facing some problems because of the instability of the region especially Egypt, which at one point was a major country for export,” he continued.
“This is why I think that there isn’t today a main market but a multitude of marketplaces that should be catered for.”
Flavors beyond the norm
Around 60% of Master Chewing Gum & Candies sales come in its home market in Lebanon, while it also exports to countries such as Canada, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and nations in North Africa.
Shaar said consumer behavior towards sugar-free products is changing as consumers consider aspartame detrimental to health.
Master Chewing Gum & Candies introduced aspartame-free Cheque Gourmet Gum in the Lebanese market this year. It is selling the sugar-free, liquid-filled brand in four flavors: Birthday Cake, Mojito, Frozen Lemonade and Licorice.
“And because natural ginger is becoming a trend globally especially in the region we have developed another product called Cheque Ginger gum that has natural ginger and is mixed with a fruit (Ginger Lime, Ginger Tangerine and Ginger Mango),” said Shaar.
New export markets
The company will showcase its new Cheque flavors at trade fair yummex Middle East in Dubai this November and hopes to bring the brand outside of Lebanon to GCC countries
“The GCC has a strong purchase power, Eurasia countries are opening themselves and the Baltic countries don’t have a lot of choices in term of products and flavors,” said Shaar.
Competition in MENA
“Things are not easy,” he continued. “For us the good news is that Mondelēz is refocusing its emergent markets activities on Africa.”
Mondelēz announced in 2013 that its factory in Beirut, Lebanon , under the Cadbury Adam Middle East subsidiary would close. The site had been producing gum brands Chiclets, Clorets as well as Halls and employed 105 people. The company shifted capacity to Egypt.
This led Master Chewing Gum & Candies to adopt a dual strategy – on the one hand selling economically priced mass-market products and on the other marketing through specialized distribution channels high-end products with comfortable margins.
Shaar said the company needed to understand consumer needs before the major gum players react.
“For example, our market research proved that young adults are getting bored with traditional flavors,” he said.
This led the firm to introduce flavors for Cheque gum beyond “conservative” mint SKUs.
Mastika: Natural mastic gum
Master Chewing Gum & Candies last year launched a natural mastic chewing gum named Mastika and aimed at sophisticated women. The uncoated gum is aspartame free and comes in luxury packaging.
Shaar said there was huge demand for mastic gum is the region, but said the majority of mastic-based brands were positioned in the value segment.
“We decided to cater for a niche market, which is ready to disburse the price for quality in ‘glamorous’ packaging,” he said.
Master Chewing Gum & Candies is also the main competitor to Mondelēz’s cough sweets brand Halls through mentholated candy brand Pix. It recently launched an aggressive advertising campaign highlighting Pix's low pricing, which has led to an 80% increase in brand sales over two years, from 2014 to 2016. Pix retails for $0.17 for a nine-piece pack, making it around half the price of Halls. The brand owner now plans to launch Pix Frosted, a sugar-free SKU using stevia rather than aspartame.