Sales of gum in the U.S. have been sinking for nearly a decade

Bad news for the gum industry: Sales of gum declined again in the first quarter of 2017, according to data giant IRI. The declines were in both dollar and unit sales, in both the sugar and sugar-free market. Overall, dollar sales declined 4 percent to start the year, but that number was bolstered by rising prices. Unit sales, meanwhile, were down 6 percent.

Gum sales have been slipping for nearly a decade, with double digit declines over that period. But possibly the bigger concern is that the reasons behind America’s increasing distaste for endless chewing isn’t entirely clear. One suggestion is that gum’s downfall comes from changing shopping habits. Few items are as synonymous with a last-minute checkout aisle splurge purchase than a pack of gum. For that reason, Michelle Green, senior manager of the global confectionary category and brand communications at Mars Wrigley Confectionery, said that self-checkout has hurt gum sales. “Our bulk segment really drove growth in 2016,” she told Confectionery News, pointing out that if the gum industry moves more product, they’ll have to be doing it in other parts of the store.

But people spending less time in the checkout aisle isn’t gum’s only pitfall. In 2014, an Associated Press report suggested that gum was struggling to keep up in a growing candy market that gave people plenty of other options for fixing bad breath. And the AP pointed to some of the social stigmas around gum as well, such as being stuck in a conversation with someone who refuses to stop smacking away. Around the same time, Fast Company suggested another cause to the problem: Most gums don’t fit into shoppers’ current obsession with more natural products.

Still, not all gums are struggling. Hershey, which makes Ice Breakers brand gum, saw its share of the sugar-free gum market jump nearly 2 percent to start off the year. “We’re proud that Ice Breakers has contributed more growth to the category than others due to unique form (soft cube), differentiated flavor crystals and a range of flavors,” Hershey’s Laura Renaud told Confectionary News. So maybe more brands just have to think outside of the stick?