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End of a tradition? Humbug seems doomed

Once proffered by kindly aunts or sucked in the back of cars on long journeys, the humbug is in danger of being consigned to the sweet jar of history.

Sales of boiled mints, most strikingly represented in the stripey form of a peppermint humbug, have plummeted by 35 per cent in the past two years, according to new market research.

Health concerns and a dying fanbase have contributed to the fall of the sugary treats, according to Mintel (really), which said soft and chewy mints were also slumping.

Sales of all mints slipped 8 per cent from £204 million in 2004 to £187 million this year and would slide by a further 11 per cent by 2014. Half of people eat mints less than two or three times a month. However strong mints have bucked the trend – because people use them to get rid of smells. Some 71 per cent said they sucked mints to freshen their breath, while 46 per cent used them to get rid of a strange taste and 30 per cent used them, in the absence of a toothbrush, "to clean teeth".

Elsewhere, things are sweeter for confectionery, thanks to expensive premium lines of dark chocolate and healthier sugar-free chewing gums. The total sweets market grew by 7 per cent in the past five years and is expected to rise 9 per cent to £1.9bn in 2014. Cadbury Trebor Bassett is the biggest producer, with 23 per cent of all sales, one per cent ahead of the Swiss giant Nestle.

Sixty per cent of Britons eat mints now, compared with 66 per cent five years ago. "Once a firm favourite, the mint sector is struggling. An older and declining consumer base, together with relatively little product development has hampered growth," said Michelle Strutton, senior analyst at Mintel.

"Traditional boiled and mild mints have largely been overtaken by innovations elsewhere and changes in tastes that are seeing many younger adults migrate to products such as chewing gum."