From capitalism, the system that brought us Chrysler, Popiel's Kitchen Magician and designer jeans, we may soon have another invaluable produce: chewing gum called "Alert." That's its tentative name. It may yet end up being called "Stimko," "Jetfuel," "Zipstrips" or "Crank 'n' Chew." Whatever name is adopted, the stuff is being hyped as a boon to truck drivers, students, and people who need to stay awake for a Guinness world record.
"Alert" is the brainchild of Bob Spetsas, a Glassboro (N.J.) State College marketing major, and a class called Product, Price and New Venture Management.
Every semester a class has to develop some marketable item from an idea to a final product. In recent years, a spate of revoluntionary ideas has sprung from the minds of student capitalists searching for ways to better the life of their fellow man.
They include tea bags with cream already in them, bagel mix, and coffee cubes -- kissin' cousins to sugar cubes. And then there have been vitamins embedded in chewing gum, pretzels with mustard inside so it doesn't slop up your new gray pants, and cocktails that taste like cocktails, but have no booze in them.
It is perhaps a fitting tribute to our dog-eat-dog business world that not long after Glassboro students told the media about the vitamin gum, mustard pretzels and fake cocktails, the ideas were stolen and the products marketed.
That's why Spetsas wasted no time. He started a patent search and contacted a gum company -- which company, he's not saying.
He does say that the company likes the idea and plans its own test marketing of caffeine-laced gum. If enough people are willing to chew their way to insomnia, Spetsas gets rich and the gum company's profits increase for the quarter.
Product, Price and New Venture Management is no pushover course. Four papers, midterm and final exams, participation in the class project and frequent speaking sessions before the class are the minimum requirements. Bruce Bradway, the man who teaches the course, is not known as an easy marker. Yet the class is always booked full as soon as the schedule is printed.
The attractions, say students, are practical experience and the lure of a rags-to-riches formula. At first, every student has to think up five schemes that might be new and marketable. Hare-brained ideas are limited first. Among those ruled out this year were shoes with built-in lights so you won't trip in the dark; a solar powered boat; a "photogray" car windshield and an air-conditioned hat.
Then the students debate and decide which single idea out of maybe 150 is the most manageable, marketable and profitable. Spetsas' caffeined gum won this year.
A North Jersey company that supplies gum base to commercial chewing gum producers donated two pounds of gray goo that looked like calves' brains. Spetsas bought the raw caffeine at a drug store and the testing began.
An amount of caffeine equal to the jolt you get from a cup of coffee was added to the goo. Two flavors were tried, peppermint and cinnamon. The first caffeine gum out of the lab was a blowout. It was like chewing aspirins. So the amount of flavoring was increased.
When Spetsas and company figured they had the right flavor balance, the gum was rolled out like a big noodle, a sort of cookie cutter was used to shape it into mouth-sized bits and Glassboro students were invited to chew and comment.
There were a few complaints. One girl spit it out after it broke up into little pieces in her mouth. But no one got sick, a clear indication that people will put anything in their mouth as long as it tastes halfway decent. The cinnamon won over the peppermint, hands down.
Spetsas figures his caffeine has big advantages over caffeine-laced pills. You don't need a glass of water to swallow it and the action is time-released through the gum.
And while Spetsas awaits news from the gum company, he's already planning his next venture -- copper portraits of John Lennon.