Received: by alpheratz.cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk id QAA25665 (8.6.9/5.3[ref firstname.lastname@example.org] for cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk from email@example.com); Sun, 24 Feb 2002 16:40:21 GMT Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 11:34:54 -0500 Content-Type: text/plain; charset=WINDOWS-1252; format=flowed Subject: Fwd: Breath Mints: A Hot War for America's Cool Mouths From: "Wade T.Smith" <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable Message-Id: <6EEBDA4A-2944-11D6-98B8-003065B9A95A@harvard.edu> X-Mailer: Apple Mail (2.481) Sender: email@example.com Precedence: bulk Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Breath Mints: A Hot War for America's Cool Mouths
By ALEX KUCZYNSKI
MORRIS PLAINS, N.J. -- On a wintry Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Richard W.
D'Souza, the vice president for oral health care of Pfizer , stood in
front of a shelf stacked with gallon jugs labeled Artificial Saliva and
Pooled Human Saliva, and spoke about the art of killing.
"They are nasty little buggers, and they should die," Dr. D'Souza said,
offering a look through a microscope at a dish of proliferating microbes
swabbed from a colleague's mouth. "We have learned how to get rid of
them, how to annihilate them, how to kill the wild germs in their
Dr. D'Souza is the General Patton of bad breath. And his fervor is not
out of place. As the mere breath mint becomes a fashion accessory and a
statement of identity, the $3 billion fresh-breath industry is
exploding, pitting giant corporations against one another in the race to
freshen gamy American mouths.
In the last 18 months, major mint and gum manufacturers — Kraft Foods,
Pfizer, the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, Hershey Foods and Playtex Products
— have introduced breath-freshening products and repackaged old ones to
refashion the humble breath mint or mouth spray.
At Pfizer, Dr. D'Souza and Dr. Pauline C. Pan, a senior microbiologist,
supervised the development of the Listerine PocketPaks, a stamp-size
container that dispenses strips that look like murky-green Scotch tape
and dissolve on the tongue. The PocketPaks can be bought with a matching
key chain and will be giveaways at the Oscars.
The appeal of the mint as accessory stretches across demographic lines.
Where bad breath was once considered the province of old men with dental
problems and cigar habits, it is now being peddled to the public as an
affliction that affects all ages, from 8 to 80.
At the same time, the pop-cultural implications of a freshly minty mouth
have shifted significantly for Generation X, from the happy-go-lucky
innocence of a Dentyne smile to more salacious connotations —
highlighted by Monica Lewinsky's descriptions of the intimate effects of
Altoids. Elizabeth Wenner, a spokeswoman for Kraft, which manufactures
Altoids, said its product had altered the landscape.
"Altoids changed many Americans' perception of what a mint could be,
namely, an essential lifestyle accessory," she said. "Eating and sharing
Altoids became somewhat of a social ritual, particularly among young
adults, predominantly in urban areas."
Beyond Generation X, manufacturers are playing on the baby boomers' lust
for self-improvement by packaging mints to highlight their therapeutic
uses. (Wrigley has even introduced a minty antacid gum called Surpass.)
And manufacturers are using novel packaging — mints on key chains, mints
in containers that make sound effects, mint strips that dissolve on the
tongue — to market to children and young adults.
But the obsession with fresh breath is not all the boomers' doing. The
industry began to grow after the InterScan Corporation in California
developed a device called the halimeter in 1992, which measures foul
breath, or halitosis. (InterScan normally makes instruments that detect
toxic gases in factories.) Armed with the new research the halimeter
provided, manufacturers went nuts.
Continuing a five-year growth trend, sales of breath-freshening mints,
gums and lozenges were up 15.3 percent in 2001, said Susan Fussell, a
spokeswoman for the National Confectioners Association. That rate far
outpaced sales of chocolate, sweet chewing gum and other candies, which
grew by 2.9 percent.
"The biggest trend today is breath freshening," Ms. Fussell said.
"You're seeing a proliferation, especially in the last year and a half,
in anything that is going to make your breath minty, minty fresh.
Everyone is rushing to get something out."
Packaging is crucial. If consumers shun the Binaca Blast atomizer, with
its geeky 1970's evocations of John Travolta's Casanova role on "Welcome
Back, Kotter," they can try Binaca Power Blasts mints, which come in a
cartoonish tin that makes a loud Snapplesque popping noise when opened
or closed, and the slogan reads "Fresh Breath Is Just a Click Away!"
"It's become trendy," Ms. Fussell said. "Who has the latest mint? Who
has the newest container on the playground? And that expands into
Generation X, with Kate Spade mints and Victoria's Secret selling
David A. Shore, a Harvard marketing professor, said the PocketPaks could
have been a huge failure.
"Consumers have greater trust issues with products that come into
contact with the skin or the mouth," he said. "But the beauty of the
PocketPaks is that they did not stray too far from the parent brand,
Listerine. They developed a kind of mystique and maintained a level of
comfort at the same time."
Searching for that same magical combination, the long-conservative
Wrigley company, under a new chief executive, has introduced Orbit, an
intensely flavored pellet gum packaged in a credit-card-size plastic
case designed to appeal to young adults. The company revamped
Winterfresh — which it now distributes at events like the MTV Music
Video Awards and the Extreme Games — and Big Red, dumping the jingle
"kiss a little longer" in favor of the musings of Clyde, a hipster who
dispenses fashion advice.
Competing against Wrigley is Hershey Foods, which bought Carefree from
Nabisco in December 2000 and revamped it as the hipper, kid-friendly
Responding to a post-Altoids consumer preference for nasal-flaring
flavors, Amurol, a Wrigley division, introduced Everest, a pellet gum
that tastes like Altoids, looks like Altoids and comes in a tin like
Altoids. Battling back, Kraft Foods added new extra-strong flavors to
its Altoids line.
And last October, after five years of research and development, Pfizer
introduced the PocketPaks. The inch-square plastic box dispenses sheets
of Listerine distilled onto a substance called pullulan, a carbohydrate
matrix that dissolves on contact with saliva.
The strips, which are about as intensely flavored as Altoids, have
become something of a fashion necessity. The PocketPaks sponsored four
parties before the Emmy Awards, and Pfizer distributed them at the
Golden Globes, to modeling agencies, to the Mets and to National
Basketball Association players, following the marketing principle that
if cool people are seen using this product, everybody else will catch
on. Pfizer plans more parties timed to the Oscars.
To older consumers, it can remain Listerine, just in a different version
of the dependable medicinal liquid that lived in grandmother's medicine
chest, while to new consumers, it is a toy, packaged in a new way
subconsciously evocative of the illicit — LSD stamp sheets, for
instance — or the sacred, like communion wafers, Mr. Shore of Harvard
"You can't ignore the Freudian aspect of it, and the novel oral
sensation," he added.
But PocketPaks do not play everywhere, Dr. D'Souza noted. "The French
think we're foolish," he said.
Peter J. Brown, a medical anthropologist at Emory University, said
Americans have long been ridiculed for their obsession with fresh breath.
"Americans believe that the natural tendency of the body is to decay,
and we have to ward that off constantly, to the point of obsession," he
said. "But people do tend to think of fresh breath as an indicator of
good health. We perceive having bad breath as unattractive, as the
opposite of beauty."
Whether or not PocketPaks make consumers feel beautiful, the sales
volume is beating Altoids: 54.5 million units in 2001 in supermarkets,
chain stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, according to
Information Resources , which tracks consumer buying. Altoids, by
contrast, sold 49.4 million units. PocketPaks have yet to beat the still
dominant Tic Tac, which sold 95 million units last year. But there is
room for growth: unit sales for Tic Tac were down by 7.2 percent, and
sales for Altoids were down by 4 percent.
The notion for the PocketPaks originated in Japan, where pullulan is
used in candy and also as an edible paper to wrap candies and mints.
The first time Dr. D'Souza tried it, he knew it needed refinement for
the American palate.
"Ick," he said. "I spat it out. It tasted like paper."
But he noticed that it dissolved quickly on the tongue.
"We had to figure out how to make it appealing to American consumers,"
he said. "It had to dissolve fast and be pleasurable, convenient and
innovative." Dr. D'Souza and Dr. Pan played around with the basic
carbohydrate film, changing flavors and adding surfactants to make it
break up faster on the tongue. For five years, sensory experts, market
researchers, dentists, microbiologists, physical chemists, physical
chemical engineers and manufacturing experts worked out the kinks.
Wes Pringle, the group marketing director of oral care at Pfizer,
supervised the design of the package, which he called particularly
important. It had to be discreet and portable, he explained, and
extremely small, which distinguished it from other products on the
market. "In the end, when we found that the product could fit into the
small, front `fifth pocket' of a pair of jeans, we knew we were
successful," he said.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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