Iceland has become the first supermarket chain in the UK to sell plastic-free chewing gum. In a time of heightened awareness of plastic pollution, will consumers switch to sustainable chewing gum at the expense of regular non-biodegradable brands such as Wrigley, Orbit and Trident?

Plastic is an ingredient in chewing gums

The environmental impact of plastic pollution has triggered substantial consumer reaction. Consumers and businesses have already begun abandoning disposable coffee cups, plastic straws and plastic shopping bags. Most people, however, do not realise that plastic can be a food ingredient and cause pollution after the food item is consumed. This is the case with ordinary chewing gum, which is made from synthetic polymers and plasticisers. With the launch of a sustainable gum by a UK supermarket chain, the awareness that regular gum is indeed a pollutant will increase.

Could this cause a dramatic shift in chewing gum’s fortune?

Certainly the effect will not be as dramatic as, for example, the ban of chewing gum consumption introduced in Singapore in the early 90s. Implemented to help avoid litter, it immediately affected imports of chewing gum and is still in effect nowadays. Singapore is, of course, an exception in terms of this policy but the Local Government Association in the UK has appealed for a chewing gum tax on brands. It has also suggested that gum manufacturers have a responsibility to give greater clarity about the ingredients they use.

Ingredients in biodegradable gum

Simply Gum, the sustainable chewing gum now stocked by Iceland, contains tree sap instead of synthetic rubber. It claims to be organic and natural, with ingredients including natural chicle, organic raw cane sugar, organic vegetable glycerin, organic rice flour, and all natural flavour.

Consumer motivation goes beyond ethics

Presented as such, Simply Gum and similar products are in a position to influence ethical consumers to switch to biodegradable gum exclusively. In fact, beyond ethical concerns, price and ingredients should be considered as potential motives. If tax is implemented on regular gum, its price could increase. At the same time, natural and organic ingredients are seen as attractive by a large number of UK consumers. According to GlobalData’s 2018 Q3 survey, “high quality” food and drink means “organic” to 34% of UK consumers, “natural/chemical-free” to 24%, and “ethical” to 20%.

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