Gum and mints freshen breath. Many of them are also freshening their packaging.

From the biggest global player to the smallest niche ventures, companies that market chewing gum and breath mints are coming up with innovative, quirky and eye-catching packaging concepts. In some cases this is done for shelf appeal alone; in others, it expresses an overall product strategy, or even the company mission.

Gum and mints have always seen a relatively high level of packaging innovation, for several reasons. They’re usually impulse purchases, which makes shelf appeal vital. As products, they usually have little “naked” eye appeal, making them all the more dependent on packaging for an impact. The packaging needs to be portable and protective. And in some cases, packaging is a crucial part of an appeal to fairly narrow niches in consumer demographics and use occasions.

Wrigley's lead

When it comes to gum and mints, the biggest player, of course, is the Wrigley unit of Mars Inc. In chewing gum, Wrigley makes the top six brands of regular and six of the top 10 sugar-free brands.

Wrigley has launched several packaging initiatives in the last few years. One of the biggest, two years in the making, was the 2008 launch of the Slim Pack.

“Consumers told us they wanted packaging that offered more portability and durability for their on-the-go lifestyles and as a result we developed the Slim Pack,” Wrigley spokesperson Jennifer Jackson-Luth noted in an e-mail. The sleek, 15-stick envelope, designed to be durable as well as portable, debuted with 5 Gum and has since been rolled out for Juicy Fruit, Doublemint, Extra, Hubba Bubba and other Wrigley mainstays.

A more recent Wrigley innovation is revamped packaging for Orbit sugar-free gum. Wrigley recently redesigned the interior packaging graphics with what Jackson-Luth describes as “36 unique retro-forward pack designs.” The patterns on the envelope are “teased” through a small clear window on the outer film wrapping, but are not truly visible until the wrapping is removed and “the consumer is surprised to uncover the pattern featured on their favorite flavor,” Jackson-Luth wrote.

Wrigley has a broader packaging-related initiative, begun late last year: the company is phasing out foil wrapping for most of its chewing gum. Individual sticks of major brands like Spearmint, Doublemint, Big Red and Juicy Fruit will be wrapped in paper instead of foil, using 13% less material, though 5 and Extra will still use foil.

“We are working to create consumer-friendly, sustainable packaging solutions that minimize the negative effects to the world’s resources through reducing, recycling and rethinking,” Jackson-Luth wrote.

Finding a niche

Gum and mints are small, relatively inexpensive, have long shelf lives and are often purchased in retail locations other than grocery stores. These factors make the category a fertile market for small producers. That opens the door for marketers to target narrow consumer niches.

One such marketer is Project 7, so named because half the profits of the Southlake, Texas company go to seven areas of charity. Packaging for the firm’s gum and mints, as well as other products like bottled water, reflects that social consciousness.

“Packaging is your only way to attract a new customer as far as trying a new product is concerned,” says Jeanne Ryan, spokesperson for 29 Agency, which designs Project 7’s packaging. “So you put out the No. 1 thing that your product has, that point of differentiation. And the point of differentiation for Project 7 is that they give back.”

Practically speaking, that means recycled and/or recyclable packaging materials, soy inks and compactness in shipping. This reinforces the idea of “Save the Earth,” which is one of the company’s seven charitable avenues. Less tangibly, it means quirky, individualistic packaging wherever possible, reinforcing the idea that the products help consumers express their identity.

For instance, Project 7 breath mints come in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) test tubes with cork stoppers. This provides a unique package using stock materials while fulfilling other requirements.

“We wanted to create something that was handy for people to grab and put in their pocket,” Ryan says. “It needed to be resealable, and it needed to be easy to display on countertop or on shelf.” Another benefit from the unique package is reusability. Project 7 at one point asked viewers on its website to detail how the tube could be reused, eliciting responses like “vase for tiny flowers” and “pin holder.”

Two-stage sweetening

The main purpose of breath mints, of course, is to freshen breath. One small marketer appeals to consumers who take their breath very seriously-enough to engage in a two-pronged assault on halitosis.

Jacquean Products LLC, a venture based in New York City, markets Eat Whatever, whose package declares, “Two steps to kissable breath.” These steps are gel caps and mints. The consumer swallows two gel caps to attack bad breath “from the inside,” then sucks on a mint to perfume his or her breath while waiting for the gel caps to kick in.

The current mainstay package is a paperboard wallet that unfolds to reveal two foil-backed blister cards, one each for the gel caps and the mints. It reinforces the idea of Eat Whatever as a medicinally intense way to attack bad breath. However, Jacqui Rosshandler, owner of Jacquean Products, says that can be a mixed blessing.

“It looks a little bit medicinal, which is good and bad depending on your customer,” Rosshandler says. “Some people love it, they think it looks a bit like a drug, they might trust it more. Other people are more taken aback by that. They might find it a little bit too serious.”

In any case, Rosshandler is phasing out the blister pack. “Blisters are great. They’re really a nice, hygienic way of keeping the gel caps and mints in their packaging,” she says. “But they’re quite expensive to produce, and also, in terms of how many you can fit in a package, it’s a little bit limiting on a small startup such as ours.” In about three months, the company will roll out a new, simpler package, consisting of paperboard with an interior divider separating the mints from the caps. Interestingly, paperboard’s permeability makes it a good option for the gel caps. When the caps are packaged in high-barrier material, like plastic or metal, they tend to stick together.

Gum and, especially, breath mints offer many opportunities for unique, targeted marketing. Packaging that expresses that uniqueness while fulfilling practical functions can go a long way toward hitting those targets. F&BP