CHICAGO – Want to manage your weight, strengthen and whiten your teeth, increase your vitamin intake? Just bored out of your mind? Have some gum.

Candy manufacturers are rolling out gums for all occasions to entice chewers to chew more frequently. Some of the gums seem to have been pulled from science fiction, or at least Willy Wonka’s factory.

Kraft Foods’ Stride Shift, for instance, changes flavor while you’re chewing. Trident Vitality, launching early next year, contains vitamin C for those who can’t be bothered to eat fruit. Wrigley’s Extra Dessert Delights, meanwhile, give dieters a reason to pass on cake, with flavors like chocolate mint chip and Key lime pie.

“Gum is the new delivery system for benefits, whether it’s breath-freshening or teeth-cleaning, relaxation or just excitement because of new, unusual or interesting flavors,” said Lynn Dornblaser, director of CPG insight at Mintel International, a global consumer, product and market research firm.

With gums like Extra Dessert Delights launching now, and Trident Vitality queued for early 2011, Kraft and Wrigley appear to be stepping up their game: in effect, declaring a gum war. After all, the mergers of Mars and Wrigley and then Kraft and Cadbury have created global gum and confectionary giants. Together, the two big players account for nearly 65 percent of the world’s gum sales, according to Euromonitor.

Gum as a whole has been growing at a rapid clip over the past decade, with global sales up 37 percent since 2001, according to Euromonitor. Total sales are expected to top $24 billion this year.

But sugar-free gum sales increases have been slowing at home over the past 12 to 18 months. According to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm, sugar-free gum sales increased 3 percent to $2.3 billion for the year ended Sept. 5, compared with a 4 percent increase during calendar 2009.

Candy manufacturers blame the recession, which reduced foot traffic at gas stations and at grocery and convenience stores. There have also been indications that shoppers in checkout lines became less willing to spend $1.39 or $1.49 for a pack of brand-name gum.

Ann Hanson, executive director of product management at the NPD Group, a consumer and retail market research firm, pointed to another possibility: saturation in the U.S. market.

“It’s possible that either you’re a gum chewer or you’re not, and how much gum can you chew in a typical day?” she said. “Gum manufacturers do have to get creative because consumers are looking for what’s new and what’s different, and as (the market) becomes saturated, it’s about stealing share from each other.”

That’s why gum brands need to multitask to keep growing the category, especially in the United States, which leads the world in per capita gum consumption.

“Innovation we bring to the category” helps sell Kraft’s brands during “the impulse moment” at cash registers, said Jim Cali, the company’s senior vice president and global gum and candy category team leader. The more exciting the gum or the more benefits the gum may offer, he said, helps “stimulate more occasions” for consumers to use the product.

For instance, Stride Shift, which changes flavor from fruit to mint, is appealing to young adults looking for excitement. Trident Layers, on the other hand, is designed as an indulgence, particularly for young women looking for an afternoon break from the monotony of work. The gum also has a bright stripe through the center, to connote the combination of fruit flavors, such as strawberry and citrus.

Mary Kay Haben, president of Wrigley North America, noted that packaging has changed to make sizes larger, and designed to be less likely to spill in a woman’s purse. Popular brands have moved from sugar-sweetened to sugar-free, and the leaders aren’t built around one flavor, like Big Red and Juicy Fruit, but an occasion, benefit or state of mind. From there, flavors can be added or taken away and lines extended more easily.

Haben pointed to Wrigley’s successful launches of Orbit and 5 brands, both in the past decade. Orbit, with annual sales above $350 million in the U.S. alone, has been the country’s top-selling gum since 2005.

But Orbit’s sales have slipped the past two years, Haben said, because it became less relevant with young consumers.

Wrigley’s Haben defines an “older gum chewer” as being about 30 years old. For that reason, one of her charges is to develop products that keep people chewing into middle age and older.

For example, Orbit has released a canister of pellet gums that can be stamped with an insignia in honor of a cause or event sponsorship. A package of bubblemint-flavored Orbit White features pink ribbons in honor of breast cancer awareness for a limited time.

Mintel’s Dornblaser expects Kraft and Wrigley to develop products that can keep millennials chewing past 30, and woo “older” people as well.