When dressing for work or play or a dinner out with friends, do you always: (a) check if your shirttail is tucked in; (b) scope out your hair for cowlicks; or (c) put a carefully selected package of mints into your pocket or purse?
A and B are perfectly acceptable answers, but if you picked C, then you are probably also aware that choosing an attractive tin of mints can be as important as choosing the right fashion accessory. Gucci loafers or red high tops? A Swatch or a Rolex? A red-and-white tin of Altoids or a pink tin of mints from hot accessories designer Kate Spade?
Retailers ranging from Neiman Marcus to Victoria's Secret to Starbucks are happily tapping into a busy mint market already jammed with confectioners and their concoctions. Yet with so many mints, standing out has become a challenge for marketers -- and hence a fashion decision for customers.
"When you have certain products, it's a statement of who you are," says John L. Stanton, an author, industry consultant and professor of food marketing at St. Joseph University in Philadelphia. "There is a cachet to opening up your box of Altoids."
Candymakers and marketers are banking on just that cachet when they decide whether to sell their mints in a large tin, small tin, plastic container with a flip top -- you name it.
"The whole visual appeal of the package certainly is what gets the attention," says Susan Fussell, a spokeswoman for the National Confectioners Association in Vienna, Va.
And the attention of the fashion savvy. Take those tiny round tins of Kate Spade mints: They're available in hot pink, grass green and ocean-blue turquoise -- just right for dropping into your "Antibes stripe" Spade handbag.
"We've always been interested in things that go into the handbag, the accessories," says Susan Anthony, a spokeswoman for Kate Spade.
All those flavored lozenges have been an exceedingly fast-growing segment of the confectionery business, according to industry figures. "It's not a new category, but the amazing growth has been within the last five or six years," Fussell says.
Citing figures from market research firm Information Resources Inc., Fussell says the category grew 7.2 percent in the fiscal year ending in May. "Given the candy market grew 2.1 percent in that time period, and standard growth for the confectionery industry is between 1 and 3 percent," she says, those numbers are "phenomenal," particularly since the figures do not include convenience stores, a group IRI does not track.
Expect those numbers to increase, given the number of candymakers at the recent All Candy Expo in Chicago who were opting to add mints to their lines. There were tins bearing images of pop singers 'N Sync and Hollywood legend Lucille Ball. Others added an array of ingredients -- from caffeine and guarana (the black-
tinned Power Mints and X-it) to vitamin E (Vivil Ice-Mint). Skittles had a flip-top container for a mint version of its chocolates.
"We've not peaked," says Stanton of the mint market. "We're just at the really exciting part of the mint business, where everyone's trying to find different targets. Everyone's using packaging and labeling and all of these things to tell the consumer that this is for you."
Are you a dot-commer with programs dancing in your head? Maybe the psychedelic-bright tins of Xtreme Intense Peppermint Breath Mints from Health-Tech Inc. will catch your eye. A salt-
sprayed sailor? You might prefer Extreme Fresch power mints from Gerrit J. Verburg Co. that come packed in a tin decorated with a wind-surfer on a crested wave.
Just as marketers have targeted different groups with cars or clothes, so, too, have they done so with mints, Stanton says. "The old model was if you wanted mints, buy a tube or don't buy them. Today, you can go in [a store] and think, 'Do I feel like an intense flavor? Do I feel like a cinnamony flavor? Do I feel like a traditional flavor? Do I feel like a very portable flavor?' "
American Colonists nibbled peppermint sticks, and dozens of mint-flavored products have been on the market for years, but mints have now inundated our culture, earning bit parts on Seinfeld (the "Quiet Walker" episode featured Tic Tacs), needlepoint covers for tins, and a Martha Stewart.com project employing empty breath-
mint tins and unpopped popcorn kernels ("Have your dinner guests ring in the New Year with homemade noisemaker place cards," reads the Stewart suggestion).
There are a number of reasons posited for the current growth in the breath-freshener business, ranging from a fascination with containers to an alternative to smoking.
Food marketer Stanton points to the portability of Tic Tacs and Altoids as a factor. "Up to that point, mints had been in a roll -- [but] Tic Tacs demonstrated that you could put together different packaging and that would make this product more desirable," Stanton says. "Also, they demonstrated that you could, per pound, make a lot of money. If you look at the price of Tic Tacs per pound, it makes a T-bone steak look cheap.
"At the same time, you also have the factor that Americans are eating more spicy foods and are more concerned about their breath."
Fussell agrees on the mints and spicy foods tie, but adds another factor. "They are also really popular with baby boomers. The older we get, we tend to lose a little bit of taste sensation in our taste buds, so we naturally look for things that have stronger flavors."
Judy Hevrdejs is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing Newspaper.