Gum manufacturing in Hungary in the 1970s. (Photo: Chocco Garden)

Coronavirus leaves bad taste in mouths of gum manufacturers

Nail-chewing times are here

COVID-19 has battered countries, communities and corporations big and small. One perhaps unexpected casualty is chewing gum, a product with a 5000-year history and which has just celebrated half a century since the first full year of Hungarian production in 1970.

Chewing gum is part of what is known as the impulse products market, with at least 60 percent of its consumption related to activities outside the home, mainly chewing on the go, at work, at school and buying on a whim at checkouts. So with the coronavirus pandemic causing many people to stay home and do more online shopping, the industry has been hit hard.

So hard that manufacturers are responding with innovation and functional products, which were presented by the Association of Hungarian Confectionery Manufacturers at a roundtable discussion in July. It was the Csemege Confectionery Company that recorded the Hungarian milestone in 1970, and thus the significant 50-year anniversary provided a good opportunity for the summit meeting on how to tackle the crisis.

The discussion was hosted by the Hungarian Museum of Commerce and Hospitality in Budapest, and representatives of three companies currently dominating the domestic market participated: the Hungarian-owned Chocco Garden based in Szabadszállás (the successor of the former factory of the Budapest Confectionery Company), secondly MARS, which owns the classic Wrigley brand, and finally Mondelez, which owns the Halls and Trident brands.

The event was broadcast live on the internet, and Sándor Sára, the managing director of Chocco Garden and the president of the Association of Hungarian Confectionery Manufacturers, had to concede that this year is unlikely to be a year of chewing gum.

The 5000-year history was recorded after archaeologists excavated the oldest relic to date, a piece of tar from birch bark containing tooth marks, in what is now Finland. Tar has antiseptic properties, so it may have played a significant role in oral care at the time.

In 2019 nearly one million tons of gum were consumed worldwide, according to Euromonitor International, and in Hungary we normally chew about 2000 tons a year, an average expenditure of HUF 2000 per capita. By comparison, in the United States, the world’s largest market, the figure is USD 12, about HUF 3500 at today’s exchange rate.

So rather than dwelling on the current difficulties, the roundtable looked ahead to the next 5000 years. The companies believe in the power of innovation, and the latest product developments are about gum enriched with various minerals, trace elements and other food supplements, which not only give the pleasure of chewing but are also considered healthy and delicious.

From this point of view, Sára said, sugar-free gums, for example, have always been a particularly healthy product group in the confectionery industry, as chewing improves oral hygiene, strengthens teeth and chewing muscles, and in many cases relaxes.

Debuting in 1964, Trident was the first sugar-free chewing gum to contain three enzymes to help prevent tartar formation. The brand now belongs to the Mondelez International group, which once appeared on the Hungarian chewing gum market ten years ago, only to return in 2018 with a gum based on cough-suppressant candies, also available in the sugar-free version of Halls.

The group is planning for the long run under the Halls Gum brand, said Péter Kertész, government and corporate communications consultant at Mondelez Hungária Kft. At the beginning of 2020 the company launched the pellet-shaped dragee version of the gum in several flavours, and for the end of the year they are preparing a study of the changing consumer habits.

Attila Sófalvi, the country director of MARS Magyarország Kft., also known for Orbit chewing gum, said that after a strong start to 2020, a 20-60 percent monthly decrease in turnover was registered in domestic retail chains. However at the same time, sales increased in international discount stores, which covered the complete range of goods for people’s shopping needs.

Sófalvi said the company tries to respond to the new situation with, among other things, an online display of impulse buying, which evokes a checkout zone, but in the long run they see the solution in expanding their offering with innovative products.

Chocco Garden operates the only classic chewing gum plant in Central and Eastern Europe, said Anna Benke, the company’s business development director. Founded 30 years ago, the original German machines are still in use, in addition to next-generation technology, and 70 percent of their Crazy Gummi products are exported to many countries, such as Canada, Brazil, Israel and Japan.

They have to meet extremely diverse consumer needs, so consistent quality management is just as important to them as continuous product development, Benke said. Chocco Garden’s innovative products include French fries-shaped chewing gum for connoisseurs, for example, but the future lies in functional chewing gum.

For example, the stimulating Energy Gum, enriched with caffeine, guarana and vitamins, was launched two years ago and is now available in green tea, multivitamins and cocoa-flavonoid superimmune as well as stress-relieving versions containing zinc and magnesium. In addition to the contents the looks would be updated, and with the introduction of a Danish foiling technology, chewing gums with a hidden tattoo pattern in the packaging would hit stores this year.

Although public belief holds that chewing gum was brought to Europe by American soldiers in the two world wars, it appeared on the continent much earlier. This is supported by the oldest Hungarian chewing gum advertisement, in a 1902 issue of Budapest Hírlap. The spread of this American passion in Hungary can be dated even earlier, as the popularised Ricy chewing gum, according to the ad, was already available in pharmacies, drugstores, spice and delicatessen shops, in many flavours.

Hungarian production, according to a contemporary article by Magyar Nemzet, began in 1959 at the plants of the Győri Biscuit and Wafer Factory. However, the real breakthrough, ball gum, was launched by the Csemege Confectionery Factory ten years later.

At the end of the 1960s Hungary imported chewing gum worth about USD 50,000, so the Csemege factory bought a French chewing gum production line for almost the same amount. Production began in 1969 and by 1973 it was already turning out half a million pieces of gum a day.



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