Nestlé, the Swiss consumer goods group, is to team up with US-based personal care company Colgate-Palmolive to develop a range of functional confectionery products, a major move into this fast-growing market.
According to Nestlé, the two companies will initially work on developing the Colgate Dental Gum range, currently available in the UK, Ireland and Canada. The aim is to extend the distribution of these products throughout the world, while at the same time developing other "portable oral care products" to be rolled out worldwide should the initial partnership prove successful.
Colgate Dental Gum comes in three variants - whitening, peppermint and menthol - all of which are sugar-free. The gum is marketed as helping to clean teeth and freshen breath between brushings.
The dental hygiene gum is sold alongside more traditional confectionery products, and while Colgate clearly brings the expertise in oral hygiene to the joint venture, it has little or no experience of the confectionery market, hence the decision to partner with Nestlé.
The partnership, which must still be approved by the regulators, is likely to come into force early in 2004.
Nestlé is well known for its chocolate confectionery products such as Kit Kat and Smarties, but it has little or no presence in the sugar or functional confectionery sectors - which is where most of the growth is to be found.
The company's recent interest in buying Adams, the functional confectionery arm of the Pfizer group in the US and which is now part of Cadbury Schweppes, showed that Nestlé is interested in moving into this area, and while the partnership with Colgate-Palmolive will not give the instant global coverage that Adams would have, it at least gives it a foothold in a growing market with an innovative product and a well-known brand name.
The functional confectionery industry is of growing interest to a number of the major confectionery players. Also this week, the world's biggest gum company Wrigley has announced that it has received a patent to make gum using the active ingredient in the anti-impotence drug Viagra, although it stressed that there were no plans for an imminent launch.
There are still around eight years left to run on the current patent for Viagra held by Pfizer - which clearly never thought of introducing its own anti-impotence gum when it still owned Adams - so Wrigley will have to wait until roughly the end of the decade before it can contemplate launching such a product.
The patent application suggests that the gum would have to be chewed for at least two minutes around 30 minutes before sex, and Wrigley even claimed that the gum might be a more effective method of delivering the drug to the bloodstream, since the active ingredients would be released more slowly into the bloodstream.
Wrigley already has a breath freshening product, although it is not a gum product - the Eclipse Flash/Extra Thin Ice strips, dissolveable paper strips, are available in the UK, Germany and the US.