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Sunday, December 21, 2014

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Aspartame-free gum makes inroads in first year

Tags: Business
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Jay Klein

At $1.49 a pack, $13.99 for a case of 12, it takes a lot of gum to register sales of $2 million. But in just one year of business, Pur Gum has done just that.

Entering a market dominated by the Tridents and Juicy Fruits of the world, Pur Gum has carved out a niche catering to those who are looking for a tasty chewing gum that contains no aspartame or sugar.

“We’re totally blown away” by the first year’s sales, acknowledged Jay Klein, founder, president and CEO of Action Candy Company, makers of Pur Gum. “It’s a lot of units.”

Klein, 31, introduced the product in May 2010 as he tried to take a bite out of the $20 billion worldwide chewing gum market. It was hard slogging at first, as retailers were reticent about taking on a new product that had no track record, he said.

Getting a foot in the door proved the most difficult part but once consumers tasted one of Pur Gum’s three flavours – peppermint, pomegranate mint, spearmint – a fourth, eXcitemint, was added recently – the product took off. Klein, who has a background in marketing, was aggressive in pushing the gum. Once retailers began stocking it, they found it was so popular they had to quickly re-order it.

Making the pitch to new retailers has become a lot easier. “Now,” he said, “you’re constantly selling success.”

According to Klein, Pur Gum has vaulted to the top of sales in his target market.

“We’re the number 1 selling gum in the health food market, available in more than 3,500 stores in Canada the United States, and now the Philippines,” he said.

You can find Pur Gum in trendy upscale markets, health food outlets, bookstores and, beginning in 2012, in big box pharmacies.

“We’re hoping to double or triple [sales from] where we are today,” Klein said. “I’d like to see us at $7 to $10 million in sales in the next 18 months.”

Klein got the idea for a new type of gum while running his own advertising firm, Drivertise, which he founded as a way of avoiding his mom’s wish he go into law school.

After years of marketing clients’ products, he thought it was time to develop his own, one that you could sell in high volumes, was inexpensive and would have good sales in recession or other difficult times.

Aspartame, the sweetener used in sugar-free gums, was man-made, synthetic and linked by healthy-eating advocates to a variety of maladies. Though the U.S. FDA and similar agencies in dozens of countries have approved the additive, Klein saw there is clearly a market for those who want to avoid it. Pur Gum is sweetened by Xylitol, a natural sweetener found in some vegetables and fruits. Ironically, it too is FDA-approved.

In addition to being aspartame-free, Pur Gum is gluten-free, is vegan-friendly and contains no artificial ingredients.

“We worked with food scientists [in Switzerland] to develop what we were looking for,” Klein said. “It took a year.”

Klein put a lot of his own money into the new product and received an injection of cash from a venture capital group.

“Then you play the game. It’s a very difficult market to crack.”

In selling gum, Klein is really going back to the future. He began his first business venture as a youngster growing up in West Palm Beach, Fla. “I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” he said. “When I was in sixth or seventh grade, I’d sell lollipops and candies and come home with a pocketful of quarters and dollar bills.”

“I never ate the candy – I was disciplined – and I came home with a profit.

“I understand what it takes to make it in the world today.”

Though he grew up in south Florida, Klein’s family hails from Syracuse, N.Y., and for years he followed in the family tradition by attending Camp Ramah each summer.

His Canadian connection continued when he enrolled in York University. With a network of friends and family in the city, he decided to remain in Toronto following his graduation.

“From a business standpoint, it was a great move,” he said. “There are decision-makers in every corporation in Toronto.”

When he isn’t running the business, Klein keeps busy with charitable work. He volunteers with UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, sits on the board of the Jewish National Fund and has been involved with CIJA-PAC.

“I don’t think you can give back enough,” he said of his volunteer work.

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