Definitely a social phenomenon aimed at the ever-increasing demographic of 15- to 35-year-old tech-savvy, extroverted hipsters whose biggest fear may well be halitosis and who would have no qualms about spending $5 or less on the next new anything, the "intense mint" is hot. Fueled by the early 1990s reintroduction of Callard & Bowser-Suchard's infamous Altoids, it has become one of the fastest-growing segments in the candy industry.
"Despite the fact that [Altoids] have been around since the reign of King George III," says senior brand manager Chris Peddy, "we're very much on track with today's consumer attitudes." With America's attraction to strong-flavored foods, he adds, "power mints were a natural occurrence."
Whether their popularity is due to the whole "curiously strong" appeal, word-of-mouth buzz generated by high-profile consumers like Monica Lewinsky, or simply a desire for nonoffending breath, Altoids are pushing intense mints in the right direction. With a 58 percent sales increase from 1997 to 1998, according to Information Resources Inc., in the midst of a $302 million breath-freshener industry, intense mints have built a significantly strong fan base.
Meanwhile, a handful of mint-producing companies have emerged, like the online mint store http://www.goodleaf.com and ifive Brands with its Penguin Caffeinated Peppermints, the first mint to tout physical and mental augmentation.
"People are looking for higher-quality items that are still affordable, yet something they can treat themselves to," says Amy Katz, who, with partner Donna Slavitt, created Webfuel, a mint carried in a tin shaped like a computer mouse and accompanied by a list of Web sites for your visiting pleasure.
Jim Corcoran of The National Confectioners Association agrees: "Consumers are demanding more when it comes to mint flavors, and they're willing to try new products, so now is a good time to be [involved]."