Last month, at the Natural and Organic Products Festival in London, Chicza Organic Chewing Gum received the award for best new organic food product. Sharing the honor with no more than 20 other organic products out of thousands exhibitors at the festival, the recognition is large for the community of farmers in Mexico’s rainforest that is beginning to introduce their gum to European markets.
The company is a fusion of rural cooperatives from the states of Quintana Roo and Campeche, close to the borders of Belize and Guatemala. Called “Consorcio Chiclero” (translated: Gum Consortium), it integrates 53 communities and organizations with over 2,163 members, and started with the philosophy that to live amongst the nature of the land, one must work to conserve it. The consortium works within 800,000 hectares of Chicozapote trees in the part of the rainforest that was originally developed by Mayan civilizations, and much of the production practices of the Chizca gum follow Mayan traditions.
The Chicozapote is a fruit-bearing tree that chewing gum is naturally made from. Before the processes of filtration, homogenization, boiling, settling, and mixing, the fruit initially bears a resemblance to a plum, and the end product is completely free of petroleum products that make up the vast majority of chewing gum out there today.
For decades, small groups of producers from the region had been exporting natural gum, mostly to Japanese markets. However, the formation of the cooperative positioned the community to meet the ever-growing demand of natural and organic products across the world, with specific focus on Europe and eventually the United States. The cooperative has been a work-in-progress for many years, with a lot of time spent developing a good looking, tasty, and competitive product, one that transcends the “niche of organics,” according to Gerardo Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the consortium.
Coming in four flavors (mint, cinnamon, lemon, and natural herb), a packet of six pieces sells for about 1.40 Euros. It is still too early to tell how well the gum is performing in European markets, but the spokespeople of the consortium have been nonetheless delighted by how well the product has been received at festivals like BioFach and the Natural and Organic Products in London. “We are working on a new project,” said Rodriguez. “We are not just selling a pack of gum. We are presenting a tradition of history and culture. Buying our gum, you are supporting generations of workers and the conservation of a natural resource.”