Chewing Bubble Gum and Kicking Ass

Locally owned company Run Gum is growing its brand across the U.S.

Photo courtesy @rungum

It’s 3 pm, and two-time Olympian and Run Gum CEO Nick Symmonds is chewing some Run Gum when I meet with him at the company’s new headquarters in Springfield.

For office workers, that afternoon slump means chugging coffee, drinking an energy drink or taking a nap. But, Symmonds tells me, to get through the rest of his day, he chews some of his company’s caffeinated gum. 

Run Gum started in 2014 in a warehouse in the Whiteaker neighborhood; its product can now be found in nationwide chains as well as Eugene-Springfield stores. The company has grown in the few years it’s been around, but Symmonds says he plans to keep its Willamette Valley roots. 

The idea of Run Gum began when Symmonds was on the U.S. Olympic Team, competing in the 800-meter event in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. 

Caffeine was prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency from 1984 to 2004, and athletes are still monitored for caffeine use. When Symmonds was competing, however, energy drink companies sent him a ton of their products, leading him to fall in love with Red Bull. 

Energy drinks became an issue when taken before races, he says. 

“I was in Italy, and I had just purchased a Red Bull and drank it before the race,” he says, adding that it was a hot, humid day. “I ran the race and afterwards I was projectile vomiting frothy, pink liquid because the Red Bull had upset my stomach so much.”

That’s the straw that broke the camel’s back for Symmonds. He says he didn’t want to be drinking the sugary drink just for the energy anymore, so Run Gum was born. 

“We brought it to market, and it ended up being exactly what I needed,” he says. “I used it daily in training. I used it before every competition.” 

Symmonds, who studied biochemistry at Willamette University, says he already knew the body could absorb stimulants without a liquid. In fact, the body absorbs through the tongue more quickly, and he says the best example of gum used for stimulants is nicotine gum.  

“I’d seen a commercial for Nicorette, and I’m like, ‘It’s so genius why Nicorette chose chewing gum as a delivery vehicle,’” he says. 

Run Gum delivers 100 mg caffeine, 20 mg Taurine, 2.2 mg Vitamin B6 and 3 mcg Vitamin B12. A pack of the gum is equivalent to a cup of coffee and is absorbed five times faster than coffee, he says.  

Run Gum is manufactured in Lake Oswego, packaged in Vancouver, Washington, and then shipped to the Springfield office, where about eight employees work. At the Springfield office, employees work on marketing, sales and shipping out the product to customers. 

Run Gum’s distribution went nationwide last year when it appeared in Target stores. In May, the company announced CVS would start carrying its product. Later this year, Walmart will offer it.

As of now, Symmonds says, most sales are made at Target stores, but he plans on more people buying the gum at Walmart.  

“We’re now in 15,000 stores across the nation,” he says. “Ninety-nine percent of Americans can find Run Gum within a few mile drive, which is really great for us.”  

Run Gum’s partnership with Target has offered the company a lot of insight about how the product sells, he says. Target offers numbers of daily sales along with data that helps Run Gum build its brand. 

“It was a huge boon to our business when we landed that deal,” Symmonds adds. 

If Run Gum does well with its partnership with Walmart, “the sky’s the limit,” he says. 

Run Gum’s appearance in chain stores like REI or Target has a downside in that local consumers may think the company is based elsewhere. Sure, 99 percent of the company’s sales are outside of the Willamette Valley, but Symmonds says he says he wants to start doing more because the local community has supported him and the company for so long. 

“Whether that’s sponsoring local events or spending more in advertising, I think we need to do a better job connecting with the community,” he says.  

The company is still young and looks like a typical startup (though I didn’t see if the office has a Ping-Pong table). The company was fueled by self-investment at first, but Symmonds says investors have joined recently — one name people might recognize is Bob Greifeld, former CEO of Nasdaq. 

Run Gum is still in start-up mode but, as long as Symmonds is leading the company, he doesn’t want to leave the Eugene-Springfield area. He says he enjoys the area because of the outdoorsy environment and because, in the digital age when consumers are so active on social media, the company can reach new customers and ship gum easily without moving to a big city. 

“I love it from a startup perspective because labor is more affordable, rent is more affordable and utilities are more affordable, so our dollar goes a little bit further,” he says. “And with the University of Oregon kicking out really talented people every spring, it’s a good place to hire.”

Plus, he adds, having Eugene, Oregon, on the back of the product resonates well with runners familiar with TrackTown.