The 90s was a time ruled by sitcoms, scrunchies, boy bands, girl bands, high-waisted jeans, grunge rock, and the rise of hip-hop style in both the cities and the suburbs. The massive reach of TV culture, followed soon by the internet, was bringing fashion, fads, and pop culture into more homes than ever.
As always, the chewing gum and candy industry largely mimicked the world around them, following fads from the sugar-filled novelties of the increasingly aware teen and preteen audience to the sugar-free lifestyle gums designed for adults.
Advertisers had been slowly gearing their messages more and more towards kids and teens since the 1960s. By the 90s, there was an explosion of gums and candies competing to capture the attention of the country’s youth. The market was becoming more saturated every single year, so new gum brands and concepts had to constantly scramble to find something fresh and unique to distinguish their products.
Novelty packaging became a huge component of this “gum and candy race,” as an eye-catching appearance can go a long way in your chewing gum or bubble gum being plucked from the crowded shelves at the candy store or supermarket. There were gum sticks styled like fruit-themed bandages, gum sticks packed inside paperboard beepers, gum packaged up like a roll of tape, and even gum sold as powder in a tiny jug. It was a race to be noticed, and the gum and candy industry tried just about every trick in the book.
Several chapters from that book involved gums and candies with wacky and weird surprises in store for the customers. Some candies would “pop” inside your mouth when eaten, while chewing gums were showing up that could turn your tongue almost every shade on the color spectrum. The sourness of certain candies was maxed out to the point of making them alluringly difficult to eat, while others were jaw-bustingly hard with geode-like patterns hidden on the inside.
Eventually, the market for all these fad gums and candies proved too small for the level of competition. There were just too many people trying to be noticed and not everyone could win. A small few of these 90s-era novelty gums and candies still exist today, while many of them are now defunct and lost to the annals of cultural history.
Of course, one of the most lasting trends of the chewing gum industry that reached its peak in the late 1990s was the rise of sugar-free gum. Following the sugar-crazed inventions of the late 80s and early 90s, sugar-free chewing gum was rebranded as an adult lifestyle product that could freshen your breath between meals and even help clean your teeth!
For the gum industry, this was a game changer, and sugar-free chewing gum has outsold its traditional and bubble-blowing counterparts every year since then. As public opinion soured on artificial sweeteners, the market for sugar-free contracted, pushing a few of the sugar-free chewing gums from the late 90s out of production. However, the industry would never be the same.