Breath strip downturn prompts Wrigley production changes

Related tags Wrigley Gum Mentha

Flagging consumer interest in Wrigley's Eclipse Flash dissolvable
breath strip product has prompted the US confectioner to shut down
production facilities in the US and shift manufacturing to Europe,
where, it seems, consumers are still attracted by the novelty,
writes Chris Jones.

The eclipse flash strips, which come in cinnamon, spearmint and peppermint flavours, were the first non-chewing gum products to be launched under the Wrigley banner, an extension of the Eclipse brand of breath freshening gum produced by the company for several years.

At the time of the product's launch in late 2002, Wrigley was extremely bullish about its prospects, ploughing $50 million into the launch marketing campaign and predicting a rapid rise through the ranks in the breath strip market, estimated to be worth around $200-$300 million.

"We're confident that Flash Strips will build on the Eclipse brand's already significant equity, making it Wrigley's first ever cross-category mega brand,"​ said Kathryn Olson, vice president of US consumer marketing, at the time.

But in little more than two years, it has become clear that Wrigley's confidence was decidedly misplaced.

"We will be winding down production of dissolvable fresh breath film products at the leased facility in Phoenix, Arizona over the next six to nine months,"​ the gum maker said in a statement, adding that volumes in the US marketplace had been declining steadily.

But while Wrigley's relatively late entrance into to breath strip market in the US appears to have contributed to its poor performance there, the same cannot be said of Europe, where it was among the first to bring the product to market - for example, when Eclipse Flash was launched in Germany in May 2003, it was the first product of its kind there.

"Volumes have been stronger in Europe under the Eclipse, Extra and Winterfresh brand banners, and given the added cost of transportation and tariffs associated with US manufacturing for Europe, the decision was made to move production closer to where the majority of future sales are anticipated,"​ Wrigley's statement continued.

"As operations are scaled back in Phoenix, equipment and production of the breath strips will be shifted to the company's confectionery plant in Poznan, Poland,"​ Wrigley added, a clear reflection of the far lower production costs associated with central and eastern Europe.

The failure of Eclipse Flash in the US has not, however, stopped Wrigley from moving into other new business areas to extend the brand. In March this year the Chicago-based company launched Eclipse Mints, its first ever mint product, which it pitched directly against Kraft Foods' Altoids brand.

Despite its optimistic view of future growth in Europe (although it declined to offer any figures to support this appraisal), Wrigley will clearly be disappointed by the failure of the brand in the US, not least because the dissolving strip market is going from strength to strength.

Recent market data from New York-based Productscan, which tracks new product launches throughout the US, shows that the dissolving strip market has continued to grow steadily since the launch in 2001 of Pfizer's Listerine PocketPaks.

Productscan Online's database of new products shows that a total of 128 different strip products hit packaged goods markets around the world in just the first nine months of 2004, more than a five-fold increase from 2002, although dental hygiene is just one small part of a market where new product developers have had a field day.

" Listerine PocketPaks may go down in history as the starting point of an entirely new category of products,"​ said Tom Vierhile, the executive editor of Productscan Online. "While breath fresheners were a starting point for the strip technology, they are plenty of signs that the dissolving strip delivery system may just be getting started."

For example, dissolving film strip-based vitamins are beginning to hit the market, with Momentus Solutions' Healthy Moments Arthur Supplement Strips for Children launched earlier this year, while Novartis recently created a strip-based formula to tackle colds and 'flu, without the mess of traditional cough and cold medications.

Even pet product manufacturers are getting in on the act, with a company called Health-Tech recently launching Lickety Strips Dissolving Treat Strips, described as the "quickest, most convenient way to train, treat & reward your dog"​. Yip Yap Breath Strips for Dogs, The Sock Puppet Instant Breath Strips with Calcium and Hartz Natural Mint Flavor Dental Breath-Strips for Dogs are similar introductions that have hit the market this year.

Productscan's research does, however, confirm Wrigley's contention that growth is also being seen outside the US market, although again the most innovative launches are not necessarily in the breath freshening sector. For example, one UK launch was Pocket Suds Soap on the Go! Dissolving Soap Strips, produced by Ranir, which are are packaged just like breath strips, but formulated with tea tree oil as a natural antibacterial agent.

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