Whichever way you look at it, the UK chewing gum and bubble gum market has hit a sticky patch.

According to TNS, sales rose by just 0.2% to £257m in the year to 18 June 2006. ACNielsen value figures ?for the year to the end of 2005, meanwhile, show chewing gum down 4.2%.

Mark Spowart, confectionery buying manager at Asda, says the figures could reflect a slackening pace of innovation, adding that Wrigley's market dominance is an issue. "The market can become quite complacent."

But Alex MacHutchon, Wrigley's communications manager, says the company has worked ?to grow the market. "During the past year all our brands have been refreshed with NPD or packaging has been updated," he says.

Airwaves Active sprouted a Citrus Fusion variant containing guarana in January, ?and Fire and Cool Breeze Mints were added to Wrigley's Extra range.

The bubble gum market is? having an even harder time, with both ACNielsen and IRI reporting value sales in decline?.

Wrigley dominates the market with ?Hubba Bubba, ?valued at £10.7m.

Its strategy has been to focus on different flavour combinations ?to target children, traditionally bubble gum's core market.

In January, it launched Hubba Bubba Max in Strawberry & Watermelon and Sour Double Berry variants?. Then? it launched Hubba Bubba Triple Treat Bubble Tape, combining strawberry, blueberry and watermelon flavours?.

But the ?roots of a turnaround could lie in the continued potential for added value products with health benefits.

Xylitol, a natural sweetener that helps fight tooth decay, is proving popular as an ingredient in gum, says Sainsbury's confectionery buyer Michael Luck, ?adding that he expects gum to follow toothpaste trends.

German chemical firm BASF is reportedly working on a chewing gum that prevents tooth decay,

thanks to the inclusion of the 'friendly' bacteria lactobacillus. ?

Wrigley ?says sugar-free products comprise 87% of its sales?, ?but Spowart believes ?gums with health benefits have more of a niche appeal and that mainstream interest lies elsewhere.

"?Our top sellers," he points out, "are Wrigley's Spearmint, ­­Peppermint and Extra Cool Breeze."

MacHutchon implies that Wrigley is planning further ?extensions?, saying ?he would sum up NPD plans as ""diversification close to home'".

??Cadbury Schweppes is thought to be planning ?incursions into the UK?, ?using its US Cadbury

Adams subsidiary, which makes gum and medicated sweets.n