A valuable opportunity

Amber Leaf rolling tobacco

Consumer demand for greater value for money within the £14bn tobacco category has never been so great.

by Gaelle Walker


From apples to energy, insurance to gym memberships, prices are rising across the board in 2022 – even the cost of sofas has taken a running jump due to supply chain challenges.

This cost conundrum is breeding a new level of price sensitivity among shoppers, with “savvy shopping” and value for money expected to be “top of mind” at the start of the year and well-beyond according to IGD.

When it comes to the UK’s £14bn tobacco market, the need for value is not just top of mind, it’s front, left back and centre – and the most powerful trend driving sales and new product development.

Imperial Tobacco UK Corporate Affairs Director Duncan Cunningham explains: “We’re seeing continued movement towards low-priced propositions across the entire category as consumer demand for value continues to drive tobacco purchasing patterns.

“As part of this shift, the lower price tiers now account for the majority of sales, with the sub-economy segment making up 63% share of Factory Made Cigarettes (FMC) and the economy segment accounting for 51% of Roll Your Own (RYO) with both value segments growing at 4% year on year.”

Unsurprisingly, Imperial says the transition towards lower priced tobacco offerings is a “key trend that retailers should be prepared to cater for given the value of tobacco shoppers in terms of the wider sales they generate in store.”

According to Imperial, tobacco shoppers have an average basket spend worth £19.60 vs non-tobacco at £11.40, and they also visit more frequently, averaging 2.9 visits a week in comparison to 2.5 for other shoppers.

Within the tobacco market, there is now almost a 50/50 market share split across FMC and RYO – at 53% and 47% respectively.

The consumer drive for value is particularly clear to spot within the RYO sector, where economy-priced products account for the lion’s share of sales at 51% – well ahead of mid-priced and premium products which hold 35% and 14% shares respectively, Imperial says.

Responding to these findings, Imperial launched its new JPS Players Easy Rolling Tobacco in 2021.

Featuring lower levels of moisture, JPS Players Easy Rolling Tobacco is “easier to handle and to roll,” a feature designed to appeal to the growing number of cigarette smokers who continue to move into the cheaper RYO category.

The range is available to buy in 30g and 50g formats priced at £12.95 and £21.20 respectively, with each pouch including a set of rolling papers.

Imperial’s Riverstone range was also repositioned in 2021 to sit within the growing economy RYO segment alongside JPS Players.

The brand’s 30g and 50g pouches feature respective RRPs £12.95 and £21.20 with both including papers and filters for an additional value-hit.

JTI also lowered the RRP for its Kensitas Club Rolling Tobacco range in Scotland towards the end of 2021.

At £12.95 for 30g 3-in-1 packs, the new low RRP offered adult smokers “great value,” JTI said. The price of its 50g pouch format also retained a “competitive” RRP of £21.20.

Cigarettes

Factory Made Cigarettes (FMC) were not left out of the value-focused NPD drive in 2021, with Imperial having also unveiled a new look for its Richmond FMC brand.

December 2021 also saw JTI commit to keeping low prices on its Kensitas Club RMC range including Kingsize and Superkings in Scotland.

“Designed to support retailers and wholesalers and boost profit opportunities,” both formats now feature an RRP of £9.75.

Explaining the move, JTI UK marketing vice president Mark McGuinness, said: “We understand that for many existing adult smokers, price plays a large role when choosing which brand to purchase.

“JTI’s decision to keep the RRPs low for Kensitas Club Kingsize and Superkings will allow retailers and wholesalers to tap into the Ultra Value RMC sector that accounts for a large portion of the RMC market.

“We’re confident that the new RRP will provide Scottish retailers and wholesalers with a fantastic opportunity to drive incremental sales and capitalise on over 100 years of success for the Kensitas Club brand.”

Accessories

Worth more than £300m and growing at 3.1% year on year according to Republic Technologies, the tobacco accessories market will also present retailers with an array of opportunities in 2022, especially when it comes to new and emerging categories such as flavour cards.

Swan’s Flavour Fusion Cards for example, were recently voted by retailers as the best new innovation within the smoking accessories market in 2021 as part of SLR’s annual Product of The Year awards.

Building on the launch of Swan Crushball Menthol capsule filters in 2020, the new Flavour Fusion Cards allow consumers to create their own level of flavour in a packet of cigarettes or RYO tobacco in just 30 minutes.

Cards come in two variants: Fresh Burst and Menthol and according to retailers are proving popular with the many adult smokers still seeking out flavour alternatives to menthol cigarettes.

Cigars

Cigars racked up another stonking year of sales in 2021 driven by the fast-growing cigarillo segment, which already accounts for 43% of all cigars sold in volume terms, and accounts for £86.5m in annual sales according to STG UK.

Country Director Alastair Williams elaborates: “The retail sales value of the total UK cigar category has increased by 22.3% over the last year and now stands at just over £283m.

“Cigar volume in the same period has also increased significantly, growing by 27.5% to 424.3 million cigars, underlining the growing importance of the category to retailers.

The rise of the flavoured cigarillo segment (following the ban on menthol cigarettes) is certainly making its mark on local retailers, with almost 50% of sales now going through the independent trade – up significantly on past years.

However, while cigarillos are very much in the spotlight, retailers should not lose sight of the category’s “engine room” – the key miniatures segment which remains the largest within cigars and worth just under £105m in annual sales, STG’s Williams advises.

Total cigar category growth has also been supplemented by the continual rise in the medium and large segment, albeit from a smaller base with momentum expected to continue in 2022.

“It’s also worth considering that there are key times of the year when cigar sales are on the rise,” Williams adds.

“Typically, as Spring approaches, bringing with it more outdoor smoking opportunities, some adult smokers will treat themselves and ‘trade up’ to a larger format option, but of course this doesn’t mean that retailers need to start stocking larger more expensive hand-made cigars! It may be as simple as a Miniature cigar smoker opting to jump to a Panatella for example.”

Merchandising advice from Imperial Tobacco
  • Retailers should make sure their product range links into the key trends at play, such as the rising demand for value.
  • Tobacco stockists should also ensure they have a range of accessories on offer to take advantage of impulse purchases.
  • Stores with a strong RYO customer base may want to consider offering a bigger range of filters, papers, flavour cards and lighters.
  • Stores with more cigarette shoppers than RYO, may want to offer a smaller range and focus this mostly on lighters and flavour cards.
  • Stocking even a small range of lighters, filters and papers will “really help retailers,” to ensure they don’t miss out on sales.
  • Maintaining stock levels at all times is essential within tobacco. Keep an eye on stock, both on store shelves and in the stock room.

It’s wise to accessorise…

The increasing shift to RYO among smokers is continuing to provide major profit opportunities for local retailers.  The UK tobacco accessories category is currently worth £320m and continues to show YoY growth, currently at +4.8% [IRI, Nov 2021], highlighting the importance for retailers to tap into these sales.

Gavin Anderson, Sales & Marketing Director at Republic Technologies (UK), says: “Cash conscious shoppers are turning to more affordable RYO products as a way of saving money, versus factory made cigarettes.

“The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns brought more shoppers than ever to local convenience stores, as people chose to stay local and minimise supermarket visits. This gave retailers an even bigger opportunity to drive visibility of margin-boosting tobacco accessories products.”

By ensuring they are fully stocked with a range of tobacco accessories from trusted brands, retailers can cater for every customer and drive sales.

Anderson continues: “As category specialists, we’re continuing to innovate. Not just with NPD but with a renewed focus on merchandising solutions, enabling retailers to highlight NPD and increase visibility of best-selling products.

“Our iconic brands – including Swan, Zig-Zag and OCB – have considerable history in the market and are synonymous with quality and value for money. This, combined with our team’s valuable expertise in the category, means that we are well placed to add real value to convenience retailers.”

Key considerations

Range

To drive RYO sales, focus on the products that are meeting your customers’ specific needs and stock the brands and formats that they’re seeking in these areas.  Swan is the brand of choice for many RYO shoppers and Crushball filters have built up a strong and loyal consumer following since legislation changed in 2020.

  • Swan Cool Burst Crushball: In a 2-part sliding pack containing 54 filters, this crush capsule delivers a cool menthol flavour sensation. RRP: £1.29.
  • Swan Fresh Burst Crushball: This crush capsule delivers a strong peppermint flavour and also comes in a 2-part sliding pack containing 54 filters. RRP: £1.29.
  • Swan Crushball Filters are available in a slim vertical shelf ready boxes, enabling convenience retailers to maximise returns from their space more effectively.

Sustainability

  • Environmental considerations continue to influence convenience store shoppers. With growing demand for more natural products and reduced packaging, Republic Technologies is increasing its focus on sustainably sourced products.
  • This has led to a surge in demand for category-boosting products such as OCB Virgin Slim (RSP: £1.04) and OCB Virgin Slim & Tips (RSP: £1.63), unbleached papers made using OCB natural gum.

Display

  • Republic Technologies launched an OCB counter display unit last year which contains 10 booklets of each of the three OCB Slim & Tips products: OCB Virgin, OCB Premium and OCB Organic Hemp. Countertop display units are a great way to signpost the category and provide visibility for bestselling products.
  • Countertop display units are also available for Swan Fusion Flavour Cards.