CEO Interview

Stepping on the gas: Drive Gum enters Autogrill and BP in Spain amid international push

By Oliver Nieburg contact

- Last updated on GMT

Drive Gum secures gas station distribution with Autogrill and BP across Spain
Drive Gum secures gas station distribution with Autogrill and BP across Spain

Related tags: Caffeine, Sugar substitute

Sugar-free caffeinated chewing gum brand Drive Gum has its sights on the US and Russia after expanding distribution in Spain through deals with Autogrill and BP.

Autogrill Iberia will stock Drive Gum at all its convenience stores across Spain. The brand has also gained listings at 160 points of sale at BP stores in Spain and Repsol outlets throughout the country.

Italy-based Drive Gum maker Functional Gums s.r.l claims the brand’s lighter caffeine content - 25 mg per piece - will help it succeed where other energy gums have failed.

‘Super-high’ caffeine competitors

Nazareno Mario Ciccarello, CEO of Functional Gums, told ConfectioneryNews competition was rising in the energy gum space, but claimed many competitors had struggled with “super-high”​ caffeine content.

In 2013, Wrigley pulled its Alert Energy Caffeine Gum​ - containing 40 mg of caffeine per piece – just a few weeks after launch, pending a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigation on caffeine’s impact on child health.

The FDA has suggested that 400 mg a day - about four or five cups of coffee - is a safe maximum amount.

Drive Gum contains 25 mg of caffeine per piece, equivalent to half an espresso shot.  A whole 12-piece pack contains 300 mg. Ciccarello said one to two pieces was the typical serving size.

Sesemix – Functional Food

sesamix

Functional Gum is also present in food. It recently launched a sesame snack bar, Sesamix, containing goji berries, linseed and chia in Italy. This secondary brand is an everyday snack intended to boost the company’s bargaining power with retailers for Drive Gum and provide an additional revenue source.

Drive Gum increased sales over 100% in 2015 versus the prior year and has maintained three-digit growth in the first quarter of 2016, according to its CEO.

Sleepiness behind the wheel

The brand initially launched in August 2013 in Italy as caffeine fortified chewing gum, providing an alternative to coffee for drivers.

It recently switched to a caffeine and guarana blend, which began selling in Greece this January.

Ciccarello said chewing gum was more portable than coffee, doesn’t stain teeth and helps the body absorbs caffeine faster.

“The idea was to identify a global problem: Sleepiness behind the wheel. It’s a huge social cost in terms of lives and healthcare,” ​said Ciccarello.

Drive Gum is aimed at the roughly 300m drivers in Europe and 250m in the US. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013.

From pharma to functional gum

tired sleepy driver - nandyphotos
iStock/nandyphotos

Drive Gum CEO Ciccarello previously worked for various multinational in the pharmaceuticals industry such as Johnson & Johnson.  On a business trip to Hong Kong, he spotted that all taxi drivers he came across were chewing gum.

 “I did research and there are clinical studies that prove chewing helps people stay awake. We thought chewing gum could be a good delivery vehicle for functional ingredients,” ​said Ciccarello.

According to a study​ by the Engineering Research Institute of Aragon at the University of Zaragoza, chewing candy or gum improves the attention-span and perception of tired drivers, based on research of 40 participants.

Expansion plans

Drive Gum’s biggest markets are Italy and Spain, but the company has global expansion plans.

It plans to exhibit at New York’s Summer Fancy Foods show in June with a view to entering the US market and has also begun negotiations with retailers in Russia, Poland and Mexico.

Drive Gum is currently distributed in Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Jordan and Lebanon and has limited distribution in Switzerland, Germany and Romania.

The brand owner is targeting gas stations and convenience stores.

Drive Gum’s only flavor is labelled ‘Bittermint’ as the caffeine imparts a slight bitterness. “If you prepare the customer, they accept it much more,” ​said Ciccarello.

Sugar-free Drive Gum is sweetened with sorbitol, isomalt, maltitol syrup, aspartame, sucralose and Acesulfame-K.

Related topics: Manufacturers, Gum, Health & Functionality

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