For decades, chewing gum was just, well, chewing gum. About the most you could expect to get out of it was a bubble now and then.
Nicorette changed all that; suddenly chewing gum became a delivery vehicle for nicotine, supposedly helping smokers kick the habit. Oddly, not much else happened -- no vitamin-enriched, antibacterial, gluten-free gums.
Ah, but now there's caffeinated gum, courtesy of Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., longtime makers of such household names as Juicy Fruit and Doublemint. Instead of just doubling your fun, Wrigley's new Alert Energy Caffeine Gum promises to give you an energy jolt without the bother of glugging liquid from a bottle or gulping down pills.
But there's a lot to chew on when you get into the energy-boost market. Just ask the makers of AMP, Monster Energy Drinks and 5-hour Energy. They're facing scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration as well as city and state regulators concerned about caffeine overdoses in younger users.
No brand extension
Hoping to avoid similar problems, Wrigley says Alert Energy is being targeted at the 25-and-up market and will not be associated with existing brands like Doublemint.
And while this may be a good idea, it's not actually a new one. Wrigley has been producing caffeinated gum for years. In 1998, it came up with a cinnamon-flavored caffeine gum intended for the military, the idea being to give combat troops a highly portable source of caffeine.
Congress funded a study on the gum's effectiveness and the results were encouraging, according to published accounts from long ago.
Among the advantages: caffeine from gum is absorbed quickly, delivering 85 percent of its dose in five minutes, compared to 45 to 90 minutes for a cup of coffee to take effect. That's because chewed nicotine is absorbed through the tissues of the mouth instead of having to travel through the digestive system.
Among the disadvantages: the taste. Caffeine is bitter and while the cinnamon covered up some of the taste, it didn't obliterate it entirely.
A competitor, Jolt, emerged and stole some of Wrigley's thunder and was promptly sued by Wrigley for patent infringement. Meanwhile, Red Bull and similar energy drinks became popular among troops, stealing some of the gum's thunder. But both Wrigley and Jolt have continued producing more potent caffeinated gum for the military for years.
A little bitter
In its latest attempt to get everyday Americans chewing their caffeine, Wrigley is being upfront about the taste, admitting that, although Alert comes in fruit and mint flavors, it still has a bitter, medicinal taste. But then, so do most energy drinks.
Wrigley officials are hoping the slightly bitter taste is a reminder to customers that Alert is a gum with a purpose, not a sweet treat. No doubt the company is also hoping the taste discourages teens from abusing the gum.
The company said a pack of Alert will sell for about $2.99 and will contain eight pieces, each packing about 40 milligrams of caffeine. That's about half the amount in an eight-ounce cup of coffee.