“I think at the core it’s fun and makes gum like a food experience and not just a habitual breath freshening device,” he said.
New flavors are not designed to meet the consumer insights
The new gum line, called Build A Flavor, includes S’mores, key lime pie and cookie dough.
“[Our consumers] can chew two flavors separately or mix them together and create a third flavor. Or they can even do two pieces of cookie dough and one piece of vanilla ice cream if that’s the ratio they like more,” Merrick said. “The idea is to let people be creative and get multiple flavors out of one pack.”
Currently, the Build A Flavor line is available at Target across the US.
The company will also debut two additional products to the Build A Flavor line: strawberry margarita, and half and half, which is sweet tea and front porch lemonade. These products will enter retailers, such as Meijer and HEB in March this year.
California-based specialty chain, Cost Plus World Market, will have all five products in the Build A Flavor line in April, and Target will add half and half around the same time as well, Project 7 told ConfectioneryNews.
However, Project 7’s new gum flavors were not designed to meet “consumer insights,” Merrick said.
“We can’t just make things that consumer insights ‘tell us’ to do… we have to try things that end customers didn’t even know they wanted until they’re in front of them. We have to take risks and try out these ideas.”
Innovation is lifeblood for small gum companies
Even though Merrick refuses to share what’s currently in their development pipeline, he said the key for small companies and challenger brands like Project 7 is innovation. “It is our lifeblood.”
Merrick admits it’s challenging for his company to outspend the “big guys,” such as Wrigley, Mondelēz, Hershey and Perfetti, and there is a stigma to overcome that a new gum brand could exist outside the established brands.
“If you couple that with the challenges that the category has had over the last several years of decline and it’s normal for buyers to be risk averse to trying new things,” Merrick said.
However, Merrick believes other food categories, including salty snacks, and chocolate, have grown because there are new players that come in and bring their innovation to the category.
“There are great challenger brands out there like PUR and Simply Gum… and we need brands like them to help bring consumers back to the category who have left or add an incremental chew.”
A Mintel report that came out last year also suggests innovation, such as adding distinguishable flavors provides growth opportunities for gum products.
“Offering gum with dental benefits or ingredients that boost mood or energize could help differentiate a product from the competition and offer a purpose behind chewing gum, removing any stigma associated with it,” the report says.
Expanding, yet tough international market
Even though there is so much white space in the US for Merrick’s gum company to explore, Project 7 is attracting more and more international attention.
“Right now, it’s limited in Canada with retail distribution at Loblaws and it’s been received very well by end users there.” Merrick said.
“We would love to do more in Canada and have a lot of demand for the product,” he added. “But unfortunately with the exchange rate the way it is, it’s been too tough of a challenge to grow the market there as the retails are just too high.”
Biggest upcoming trend: more than ingredients transformation
Compared to natural and artificial formulas major gum companies have established over the last 20 years, Merrick believes, even though naturally flavored gums are good, it’s hard for them to mirror the same level of customer experience those major companies provide.
Merrick said he hasn’t seen the biggest upcoming trend in the gum industry yet, but it has to be more than natural sweeteners versus natural and artificial formulas.
“I’ve got to think with the R&D resources that the big guys have. They have some fun new experiences of how the entire gum chewing process could be. It can’t be the same technology as we’re using today in gum chewing 50 years from now or I believe the category will be half the size it is now.”
In addition, Merrick said energy could be an opportunity for gum industry in the future.
“The energy drink category is just as accessible as gum… there has to be some opportunities for gum to be an energy offering at some point.”
However, he added, “There is no way every idea we come up with will work, but we can’t just stay where we’re at and defend a position – no category has survived that mentality. Just look at soda.”