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Mint tins become latest status symbol

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Power tie. Power breakfast. Power lunch. Now comes the power mint.

Super strong mints offered from chic little tin boxes have become the must-have accessory for the trendy - particularly after all those caffe lattes and expensive cigars."You crack open a tin of mints and people notice," said Brian Schwartz, a New Yorker who popped a Starbucks mint after a cigar at Angelo & Maxie's steakhouse. "Yes, it's good for the mouth odor, and of course, it makes you look pretty good."

Offering a colleague a mint from that roll that's been at the bottom of your pocket or purse forever just won't do in 1998. Neiman Marcus, Alfred Dunhill and Starbucks are selling out of their mints, which cost $2 to $5 for a tin of 100.

"I was at a business meeting with some fashion executives, and three out of the four people there pulled out their tins of mints during a break," said Kevin Dwyer, general manager of An American Place restaurant in New York.

Tins of mints first appeared nationwide in the early 1990s with the arrival of British-made Altoids. At the same time, Americans were beginning to eat spicier food and the craze of high-priced big cups of coffee was beginning.

"Americans were ready for an extra strong mint. Our food habits had changed and we craved mints with a lot of flavor, just like the food we were eating," said Lisbeth Echeandia, editor of Confectioner magazine. "They also liked the tins. It gave them some distinction from the rest."

Altoids now are the fourth-largest selling mint and biggest-selling power mint in the United States.