NEW YORK — The recent decline of chewing gum sales is not a concern for a new entrant to the category. Caron Proschan, founder of New York-based Simply Gum, believes her products address a cause of the downward trend.
“It’s our view that gum sales are on the decline because consumers are disillusioned with the synthetic options that are on the market,” Ms. Proschan told Food Business News. “So for us, this is actually a perfect window into the market and offers consumers something more in line with what they’re actually looking for. The tailwinds are moving in our direction. I don’t think anyone can dispute the fact that more Americans are looking for natural and healthier options today.”
Launched in 2013, Simply Gum contains only six ingredients: chicle, organic dried cane juice, organic vegetable glycerin, organic sunflower lecithin, organic rice flour and natural flavor. Varieties include mint, cinnamon, fennel licorice, maple, ginger and coffee.
“Essentially with conventional gum you are chewing on a plastic base with some artificial ingredients like aspartame and artificial colors inserted,” Ms. Proschan said. “We are totally transparent. All of our ingredients are labeled … and of course we are plastic-free.”
Today the products are sold in 1,200 retailers, including Whole Foods Market, Sprouts and Vitamin Shoppe.
“We eventually envision this to be everywhere,” Ms. Proschan said. “We want this gum to be in every location that you’d find Wrigley’s gum in.”
In an interview with Food Business News, Ms. Proschan shared the challenges of product development and her plans for the business.
Food Business News: What inspired you to launch Simply Gum?
Caron Proschan: I’ve always been into natural products, and I just wasn’t able to find a natural gum, which was pretty shocking given that in today’s world you can find anything from natural pickles to natural ketchup to natural chocolates to natural sodas. It was crazy to me that gum was one of the few categories remaining where there wasn’t a single all-natural option.
I started doing more research and found out that in addition to the aspartame and artificial flavors and colors (in some gum brands), there’s also plastic hidden in the term “gum base.” The F.D.A. doesn’t require gum manufacturers to actually list all of their ingredients on the label. They can hide up to 80 synthetic ingredients in this term called “gum base,” which sounds innocent, but when you actually do the research it turns out that it’s hiding things like polyvinyl acetate.
You have higher-end versions of most food products out there, but with gum, you only had the mass stuff that was in the drug stores. Nothing that felt clean and higher end.
What was the product development process for Simply Gum?
Ms. Proschan: I came up with the formulation myself. It took a lot of trial and error. For almost a year I experimented with all kinds of ingredients and flavor profiles until we found what we believed was a great texture and great flavor.
How did you come up with the six flavor profiles?
Ms. Proschan: We wanted to do a mix of traditional flavors like the mint and cinnamon as well as experiment with new flavor profiles that people haven’t seen before. Fennel, our licorice flavor, was inspired by the fact that a lot of cultures use fennel as a natural breath freshener.
Coffee and maple were more dessert substitute flavors, kind of sweet and fun and appropriate for post-meal. And we thought ginger would be a nice one because it does have a little bit of a breath-freshening element and is very popular in a number of food products.
Because we are using natural flavors and because we’re not going in an artificial direction, that also guided the kinds of flavor profiles (we developed). For example, we’re not going to produce a bubblegum-flavored gum or a root beer-flavored gum or a strawberry cheesecake-flavored gum because those flavors don’t exist in nature. We wanted to stay authentic and stay true to our roots by using flavors that are more natural and more in line with what our brand stands for.
What are some of the challenges of working with the ingredients you have chosen to work with?
Ms. Proschan: Flavor profile is a challenge. We’re not able to produce some conventional types of flavors because we want to stay true to our natural positioning. It also means that up until now our flavors have been more subtle than conventional gum because we weren’t using as much sweetener and we’re not using aspartame, which is a very strong artificial sweetener. Compared to conventional gum, ours tastes more subtle and less aggressive.
However, we are launching new formulations. We have made some tweaks that we are rolling out in January that I think will really get our gum up to par with the conventional competitors. We increased the duration of flavor as well as the intensity. We’re constantly trying to iterate and not only create new flavors but also increase the intensity and duration of our existing flavors. And I think that’s something all gum companies work on. It’s a challenge for everyone.
Have you considered making a sugarless gum?
Ms. Proschan: We do want to try to come up with a sugarless alternative. It is something we are working on.
Your gum is packaged with a pocket of disposal papers. What drove that insight?
Ms. Proschan: That innovation came about based on my personal experience, which is that oftentimes when I’m out and I’m chewing a piece of gum, I can’t find a way to dispose of it discreetly. We have wrapping papers in the actual pack, and people really seem to love it. It’s a fun and practical aspect of our packaging.
I should also mention that because we don’t use plastic in our gum base, it’s biodegradable. Conventional gum is not biodegradable and actually contributes to a ton of plastic waste each year as well.
Are there any other product categories besides gum that you can see the brand entering? For example, Simply Mints?Ms. Proschan:We are looking at adjacent categories… There will be adjacent products coming out down the road.