Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's Oompa Loompas once opined:
Gum chewing's fine once in a while
It stops you from smoking and brightens your smile
But it's repulsive, revolting, and wrong
Chewing and chewing all day long.
The Oompa Loompa consensus has pretty much held over the years, especially in offices and elementary-school classrooms. But Wrigley
The company has established the Wrigley Science Institute to investigate whether gum can help in weight management, stress relief, and boosting concentration. Investors might be quick to write off Wrigley's initiative, but the confectionary giant's research could provide it with marketing ammunition that plays well with the current mind-set of U.S. consumers.
Americans are in a schizophrenic state when it comes to health. Despite evidence that U.S. citizens are fatter than ever, there seems to be a growing obsession with health issues. It's hard to avoid news features on wellness in the general TV and print media, not to mention the countless magazines and books dedicated to nutritious eating and exercise. Part of this fascination with health information may be related to busy lifestyles. With less time on their hands, consumers are constantly looking for convenient paths to health -- which foods or ingredients to eat or avoid, everyday healthy or unhealthy habits, products that slow aging, etc.
Wrigley's research plays right into the quick-fix mentality. Gum chewing is cheap and easy, and the company already has some intriguing, although admittedly preliminary, data. A Wrigley survey suggests that many dieticians already recommend gum to help in weight management. The company also claims that studies have shown that chewing gum increases blood flow to the brain by at least 25%.
The drawback to Wrigley's research is that it doesn't appear that the firm will be able to claim that its gum is unique in providing health benefits. As a result, Wrigley's chewing-gum competitors, Cadbury Schweppes
Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.