Wrigley temporarily halted production of its new Alert Energy Caffeine Gum in response to concerns expressed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over the impact of caffeine on children and adolescents.
The company said it had paused the production, sale and marketing of Alert to give the FDA time to develop a new regulatory framework for the addition of caffeine to food and drinks.
The recently launched gum has about 40 milligrams of caffeine, as much as a half a cup of coffee, in each piece.
“After discussions with the FDA, we have a greater appreciation for its concern about the proliferation of caffeine in the nation’s food supply,” Wrigley North America President Casey Keller said in a statement.
Keller said there was a need for change in the regulatory framework to “better guide” consumers and the industry about the appropriate use of caffeinated products.
The company previously said it marketed the gum as an energy product for adults aged 25 and older, and that it exceeded current regulatory requirements on labeling.
The FDA said last month that it was taking a “fresh look” at the issue in response to the launch of a caffeinated gum, and warned that it would take action “if necessary”.
Food manufacturers have added caffeine to candy, nuts and other snack foods in recent years. Jelly Belly “Extreme Sport Beans,” for example, have 50 milligrams of caffeine in each 100-calorie pack, while Arma Energy Snx markets trail mix, chips and other products that have caffeine.
The companies say they are marketing the products to adults, but critics say that’s not enough when the caffeine is added to items like candy that are attractive to children. Many of the energy foods are promoted with social media campaigns, another way they could be targeted to young people.
Major medical associations have warned that too much caffeine can be dangerous for children, who have less ability to process the stimulant than adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics says it has been linked to harmful effects on young people’s developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems.
Taylor said last week that the proliferation of new foods with caffeine added - especially the gum, which he equated to “four cups of coffee in your pocket” - may even prompt the FDA to look closer at the way all food ingredients are regulated. The agency is already investigating the safety of energy drinks and energy shots, prompted by consumer reports of illness and death.
The only time FDA has explicitly approved the added use of caffeine in a food or drink was in the 1950s for colas. Taylor said the current proliferation of caffeine added to foods is “beyond anything FDA envisioned.”
The FDA did not name Wrigley, owned by privately held Mars Inc, or the gum in its statement.
Wrigley is not the first company to market gum with energizing properties. Mondelez International Inc sells a line of gums with ingredients like ginseng, green tea and Vitamin C. Stride Spark sells gum that have Vitamins B6 and B12 added.
Earlier this month a group of 18 doctors and public health experts petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to protect children and teens from highly caffeinated energy drinks, writing that, “Youth with higher caffeine intake commonly report troubling neurological symptoms, including nervousness, anxiety, jitteriness, and headache.”
Dr. Donna Seger, executive director of the Tennessee Poison Center and professor of Clinical Medicine at Vanderbilt University, says 40 mg of caffeine per stick of gum is unlikely to sicken a teenager or adult, but a toddler could be affected if they manage to sneak a few too many sticks.
“The nervous system isn’t developed till you’re in your twenties,” said Seger. “All of these stimulants can [affect an underdeveloped system.]”
Wrigley warns that the gum is not intended for children or those sensitive to caffeine and will be marketed to those over the age of 25.