Food industry world over strives to create appetite amongst the consumers hoping to attract them to their products and the science of sensory 'tickling' is often used to attenuate a feeling of desire for the brands by invoking visual and olfactory sensation. Technological developments and high pressure marketing strategies have been instrumental in capturing consumer imagination and many of to day's health problems in western countries are being attributed to processed products created with least attention to their nutritional implications. Products with 'empty' calories in which nutrient density is very low compared to any natural food, dominate the market and their fantastic sensory qualities attract the consumers in droves. Consumer awareness programs to forewarn them against mindless consumption of such products and their consequences do not seem to be reaching the target as is experienced by anti-tobacco programs. Can there be a strategy where industry and the consumer could both be winners? Probably yes.
Clue to such a possibility comes from the industry itself. Chewing gum industry is facing flaks from many quarters for the social and civic nuisance it is creating by the indiscriminate disposal of the sticky 'chewed' residue by the consumers. This has led many countries to ban chewing gum products and already some countries have precisely done this. Though chewing gum can be a suitable medium for delivery of health-helpful ingredients like vitamins, minerals and health supplements, its ban can damage its prospects besides raising a question regarding its very survival. Modifying chewing gum recipes to create feeling of satiety and use biodegradable gum base are being tried out to create new market and save the industry. Most recent example is introduction in the market of a product containing konjac powder in the formula which swells 200 times once ingested and generates a feeling of fullness in the consumer. Inclusion of some special dietary fiber ingredients with same properties also is being attempted. Satiety inducing products, similar to products that reduce cravings for tobacco, already in the market may still save the chewing gum industry from extinction.
Chicle based chewing gum survived for more than 9000 years and has seen many developments in its checkered history. Replacement of natural chicle with synthetic polymers was a turning point as artificial ingredients became more and more unacceptable to the consumers. Sugar free products, constituting almost 80% of production to day, revived its fortunes some what and the current world output of 1 lakh tons per year may go down further if the industry does not innovate to meet the changing environment. It is recognized that chewing gum can cut down dental caries and other oral problems because of its ability to remove bad bacteria like Streptococcus mutans besides increasing saliva production ten fold. Saliva is a source of alkali and hydrogen carbonates that can neutralize the acidity produced by harmful bacteria. Besides saliva also contains calcium and fluoride, both part of enamel coating of the teeth. Chewing gum stimulates part of the brain, hypothalamus which releases hormones that keep people alert and focused. Probiotics enriched chewing gum products may find increasing acceptance amongst health conscious consumers.
The biggest hurdle for the industry to grow is the tendency of the discarded residue to cause civic problems as removal of the sticky material is a difficult task. In UK alone about 150 million pounds expenditure is incurred in removing the sticky residue from public places. Manual scrapping is the best way to remove the material which is expensive. Machines to remove spent chicle gum from public places will cost about Rs 30-35 lakh as an investment and annual recurring expenditure. Use of the protein, zein from corn which is a by-product of corn processing industry, has been found to be environment friendly as it hardens and gets degraded in 2 weeks. There are special gums being developed which are hydrophilic in nature and therefore can be easily washed off. Low adhesion and non-sticky synthetic gum bases are also being tried which can be easily removed with least problem. Special gum bases under development have the unique ability to remove pathogenic bacteria responsible for tooth decay by selectively adhering to them. Probably modern world is just realizing the potential of chewing gum type of products as a carrier for many materials that can create the feeling of well being and innovations are likely to take place at a faster pace in the coming years.