Americans are abandoning chewing gum just as the Chinese are picking it up

Kicking the habit.
Kicking the habit.
Image: Reuters/Ben Nelms
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One of America’s oldest chewing gum brands, Trident, will soon be on sale in China. The seemingly insignificant release of yet another brand targeting China’s expanding consumer class underlines a shift in demand for one of the world’s oldest confection: The habit of chewing gum may be permanently disappearing in much of the developed world, just as it is taking hold in emerging markets.

Announcing the news, Irene Rosenfield, chief executive of Mondelez, which owns Trident, told investors in April, “Our gum results are a tale of two cities,” describing lagging sales in the France, Japan, and the US but strong performances in Brazil and China.

Gum sales in the US have been declining since 2010, according to the consultancy Euromonitor. Sales fell last year to $3.5 billion, a 2% dip from the year before, and the consultancy expects gum sales, including sugar-free gum like Trident, to drop another 11% over the next five years. In Canada, where gum sales are expected to fall 1% every year over the next five years, Wrigley is closing its Toronto gum-production plant.

Industry analysts hoped families in developed markets were just cutting back on unnecessary purchases during an economic recession. But the change may be for the long term.

US smokers often kept gum on hand to chew after a cigarette, but smoking rates have steadily declined, and for those who still smoke, breath mints have become more popular. It’s also gone out of style among millennials who see it as a little tacky—Britney Spears memorably smacked her gum during a 2003 CNN interview.

There’s little of that stigma toward smoking or chewing gum in developing consumer markets like China’s. The proportion of adults smokers in China has fallen to about 24% in 2012 from 30% in 1980, but the growing population has meant the addition of about 100 million smokers.

Other countries, such as Mexico and Russia, are also helping support global gum sales—between 2009 and 2014, the global gum market grew 20% to about $24.7 billion, according to Euromonitor. In China, gum sales are expected do increase 6% every year over the next five years, helping global sales to grow another 32% to reach $32.5 billion.