Friday, April 5, 2024

Insight: A dream come chew

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I can’t remember the last time that I purchased chewing gum and it’s not surprising to me that many popular gum brands from when I was a child are no longer sold.

Fruit Stripe chewing gum will
no longer be made after more 
than 60 years n the market in
Back then, every time our family would go to the grocery store, I’d ask my parents to buy me a package of Mini Chicklets, Dentyne or Bazooka bubble gum from the section displayed near the checkout register. I never kept the tiny Bazooka Joe comics included with the gum, but I imagine they would be worth more now than the pennies I paid for the bubble gum pieces way back when.

No one in our family bought chewing gum on a regular basis, but occasionally a pack of Wrigley’s Juicyfruit, Spearmint or Doublemint gum would find its way into my mother’s purse, and she’d hand my brother and I a stick to chew in the car during a Sunday excursion to visit relatives.

Most of the chewing gum I see now are tiny pieces of Dubble Bubble gum in neighborhood children’s Halloween bags, but decades ago, chewing gum was everywhere and a thriving industry in America with commercials promoting gum products on television, in magazines and on radio.

Recently I read an announcement from the Ferrara Candy Company that after 60 years, it was discontinuing production of one of my childhood favorites, Fruit Stripe gum. Originally introduced in the early 1960s by Beechnut, Fruit Stripe gum was colorful and offered zebra-striped wrappers for orange-striped, cherry-striped, lemon-striped, lime-striped, and blueberry-striped gum.

Marketed in distinctive red and white packaging, Dentyne contained eight small pieces of gum that supposedly was created to sweeten your breath and keep teeth white. It was always a sponsor of American Bandstand on Saturday afternoons as host Dick Clark would hawk the product to teenagers looking to enhance their appeal to the opposite sex. Now Dentyne is sold in Fire, Ice, and Sugar-Free flavors and the original flavor hasn’t been made since 2019.

Part of the appeal of chewing gum for me was always to cram as many pieces into my mouth as possible. I can recall driving on a two-lane highway between Phoenix, Arizona and Socorro, New Mexico when I was in the U.S. Force and chewing two entire packs of Big Red gum in my mouth at the same time.

Another time I remember putting the entire package of shredded Big League Chew grape-flavored bubble gum in my mouth while playing right field in a league softball game in the 1980s. When a towering fly ball was hit in my direction, I removed the wad of gum and threw it into the grassy field beyond the outfield’s chainlink fence. It probably is still there and resembles a used softball some 40 years later.

As a baseball card collector growing up, I never liked the residue left on baseball cards by the hard-as-a-rock piece of bubble gum included with the packages of players depicted on the cardboard cards. Years later, that residue is still evident nationwide on many cards remaining from the 1960s and 1970s, significantly lowering their potential value.

When I asked my father how animal trainers made the mouth of the horse move on the TV show “Mr. Ed” or the chimps on “Lancelot Link, Secret Agent,” he said they gave them bubble gum to chew.

Nostalgic trips examining the old-fashioned candy display at Cracker Barrel usually turns up 5-stick packages of D.L. Clark’s Teaberry, Black Jack, Clove, and Beemans chewing gum flavors. Teaberry gum was promoted extensively in the mid-1960s with commercials featuring my father’s favorite Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, who performed the song “The Teaberry Shuffle.”

Along with the demise of Fruit Stripe gum, longtime best-selling brands such as Beechnut gum and Freshen-Up gum have been discontinued in the past decade, and my lack of gum purchasing may be an example of a larger trend worldwide. As more people try to limit sugar or artificial sweetening intake for health reasons, chewing gum sales are slipping.

That’s probably welcome news for school janitors and anyone who cleans movie theaters, picnic tables, handrails, and escalators. Years ago, the underside of school desks was the preferred disposal site for a wad of chewing gum when teachers would ask for it to be removed during classes. And the floors and armrests of darkened theaters no longer seemed to be mined with sticky spit-out used chewing gum.

Lately the trend for gum manufacturers seems to be selling slow-release flavored gums with brands such as Extra, Orbit and Ice Breakers dominating national sales. Orbit commercials have recently featured a British-accented woman promoting the product as something in stylish packaging to “get rid of dirty mouth.” And sales are expected to rise this week for the appropriately named Eclipse gum, which comes in four flavors including Peppermint, Spearmint, and sugar-free flavors of Winterfresh and Polar Ice.

Researchers say that chewing gum sales in America fell dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic and demand by consumers has yet to resurface. Last year gum sales only rose 1.2 percent and the chewing gum market worldwide remains down more than a third of pre-pandemic days.

Perhaps makers of chewing gum just need to stick to it.

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