CULTURE

Meet the people who make this beloved Pinoy chewing gum brand

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Mars Wrigley products Juicy Fruit and Doublemint may not be Pinoy brands, but they may as well be. Illustration by JL JAVIER

We don’t actually enjoy gum, but the gum itself is a big part of why we love to chew. The idea of chewing, only to spit something out after, is counterintuitive to the act of consumption — gum cannot be eaten or swallowed. (There are myths about how swallowing gum keeps it in your stomach for years, or that it wreaks havoc on your digestive tract. Doctors have debunked this; it exits your system, completely intact, after a few days.) Gum is simply the medium by which we are able to savor the sweet, sometimes minty flavor it contains.

For an experience that is chiefly about savoring, it’s necessary to find a flavor that is worth the drawn out experience. For decades, two brands stood out: Juicy Fruit, which has a deliberately vague fruit flavor, sometimes characterized as a combination of banana, pineapple, and perhaps jackfruit; and Doublemint, described to have a “double strength” peppermint flavor.

Juicy Fruit and Doublemint may not be Pinoy brands, but they may as well be. Juicy Fruit appealed to a younger audience for its sweetness, while Doublemint was the adult choice for a quick breath freshener. In 1991, Wrigley ran a memorable Juicy Fruit “Mas Malinamnam" ad, featuring a tired jeepney driver with two white passengers offering him gum to cool off amid the traffic jam they were in. By then, it had already become a household name throughout the country. Juicy Fruit and Doublemint proved to be so popular that if you were to Google a spoof chewing gum pack with a plastic bug inside, the toy comes in two colorways: Juicy Fruit’s warm yellow and Doublemint’s cool green tape gum package. Who wouldn’t be tempted to take a free Juicy Fruit?

Beyond their universal appeal, nobody has known much else about these beloved chewing gum brands. But recently, Mars Wrigley opened their Antipolo factory doors to members of the media as a way of showing a bit more of the culture that has kept them in the Philippines since 1963. Far up the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountain range, the factory spans wide — flanked by residential villages, resorts, and two golf courses. With no high rises in sight, the factory’s blue and white facade stands out; in stark contrast to the provincial views outside, the Mars Wrigley factory’s office area feels more like a bustling start-up than a tenured company building. Open-plan desks are set up all over, so that everyone can work from wherever they’re comfortable, with singular meeting pods flushed against the walls so others don’t get distracted by calls. There’s a recreational room right by the main entrance that also hosts the occasional group exercise class. An interfaith prayer room is just a few doors down the clinic, which has a breastfeeding room for nursing parents. All over the factory, people are gearing up for the table tennis tournament finals.

The Mars Wrigley factory is located in Antipolo, Rizal. Photo courtesy of MARS WRIGLEY PHILIPPINES

Recently, Mars Wrigley opened their factory doors to members of the media as a way of showing a bit more of the culture that has kept them in the Philippines since 1963. Photo courtesy of MARS WRIGLEY PHILIPPINES

This is the gum factory’s second home in the Philippines. When the Wrigley company came to the Philippines in the ‘60s, they operated out of a Pasig City factory until the turn of the millennium. They moved to the bigger plant in Antipolo City, Rizal in 1999, where they now also produce Cool Air gum, which has a strong menthol and eucalyptus flavor. Mars Incorporated acquired Wrigley and subsequently the Antipolo factory in 2017, making the two chewing gum brands a subsidiary of the global candy giant.

The factory office may be set up with the trappings of a startup company workspace, but the brand has spent years in the business to prove itself to be a global leader in workplace innovation. At Mars, employees are called associates, in recognition of their equitable contributions to the brands’ enduring appeal. Associates on the factory floor don immaculate white lab gowns with the company’s and their names — “Mars - David,” for example, as though “mars” (derived from “kumare”) was actually fond honorific they shared among themselves. Above each name may be a number of stars — each star to symbolize a decade in service in the company. While working on packs of Doublemint packaging, we met several women working on the factory floor with three stars on their gowns. This means that several of them have been working on these chewing gum brands even before the factory moved to Antipolo.

The Mars Wrigley factory in Antipolo not only produces gum within the Philippines. It also makes Doublemint, Juicy Fruit, and Cool Air for export to other Southeast Asian countries. In 2021, they started producing gum for the Chinese market. According to Mars Wrigley Philippines factory director Fernando del Castillo, operations didn’t halt during the initial COVID-19 lockdowns in the country, but it became an opportunity to test how business performance can grow by putting their people at the core of what they do.

With very little government support, Mars Wrigley, like other local businesses, overhauled their operations to provide transportation and protective gear to share with their families. It allowed them to operate their usual 24-hour operational capacity without having to downsize their labor force. Many of these lockdown initiatives continue to be part of their operations until today. The drive to encourage more long-tenured associates through such benefits has paid off for their organization. Today, 30% of their workforce has been in the factory for over 21 years.

The Mars Wrigley factory in Antipolo not only produces gum within the Philippines, it also makes Doublemint, Juicy Fruit, and Cool Air for export to other Southeast Asian countries. Photo courtesy of MARS WRIGLEY PHILIPPINES

At Mars, employees are called associates, in recognition of their equitable contributions to the brands’ enduring appeal. Photo courtesy of MARS WRIGLEY PHILIPPINES

Gender parity is also a big part of the company’s employee initiatives. The current leadership in the organization has a 50:50 male to female ratio. In the supervisory level, men favor by 56 to women’s 44. And on the shop floor, men lead by 82 to women’s eight, which the company is focused on improving. The focus on this data, however, says little about the company’s inclusivity policies regarding LGBTQIA+ associates.

Del Castillo himself kept the stance generalized: “I’ve said that the most important part [of our company policy] is to make sure we have a safe place,” he says. “ And we do have quite a few [LGBTQIA] people on the site. As far as specific programs, it’s an area we can improve on. Regardless if you’re [LGBTQIA], [a person with] disabilities, male or female, it’s about being comfortable [enough] to be who you are.”

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The section of the Mars Wrigley factory that produces the well-loved Doublemint gum has an overpowering smell of peppermint. The fumes are so strong that it can sting one’s eyes, even through protective eyewear. But the peppermint is nothing to the veterans at work that day, men and women with stars on their coats, who are either stacking up ropes of gum to be wrapped in foil sheets, or monitoring thousands of pellets to be packed into plastic bottles. For decades now, Mars Wrigley has managed to crack the formula of what makes a company endure: not only by making a product that people would love to savor, but by encouraging an environment for its producers to thrive in. After all, to chew gum is not to anticipate the destination, but enjoy the journey it takes you on. It seems that the same philosophy applies to the very people who make these beloved chewing gum flavors, every single day.