2 minutes of your time: Alastair Williams

Alastair Williams

The cigar category is actually in growth by value and has plenty to offer Scotland’s local retailers, says Alastair Williams, Country Director at category champion Scandinavian Tobacco Group UK (STG).


Alastair Williams joined Scandinavian Tobacco Group UK 13 years ago as a Key Account Manager, under the ownership of Henri Wintermans cigars. From then he had the opportunity to experience a variety of different and exciting roles in the organisation, from National Accounts and channel management to trade marketing and communications. He was then appointed Head of Sales before being names as Country Director.

The latest data shows that the cigar category is in slight growth by value. That’s got to be good news for retailers?
Yes, I think that’s good news for all of us! The latest data we have illustrates value growth of just under a percentage point so it’s not huge but certainly a step in the right direction. As you might imagine, it’s very much being driven by the Miniatures sector.

From STG’s point of view, how is the category doing at the moment, given your dominance?
The category is doing pretty well and we’re very fortunate to have a portfolio which ticks all the boxes when it comes to the UK cigar market. The jewel in our crown is of course Signature (formerly known as Café Crème), which is easily the biggest player in the category and the UK’s number one Miniature cigar. We also have Moments Blue, which is the UK’s fastest growing cigar and second best-selling Miniature cigar. In fact, we have a share of over 67% of all Miniature cigar sales.

And the move from Cafe Creme to Signature has gone well, we understand?
It has indeed. Changing the name of such as well-known and well-established brand was not a decision that we took lightly but I’m pleased to say there has been no negative impact on sales so far, with both the trade and adult smokers seeming to understand that it’s the same great product inside!

It was a bold move given the strength of the Cafe Creme brand. What prompted the rebrand?
The rebrand was driven by a desire for global consistency as the name is changing to Signature in all our markets around the world. We carried out extensive consumer testing on the new name and it scored exceptionally well which gave us the confidence to proceed. I will admit to being nervous about it but the sales figures speak for themselves and it’s clear that we made the right decision.

What are the key trends in the category today? Is it still all about smaller cigars?
The trends affecting the category have been consistent for a while and will certainly be familiar to Scottish retailers. It’s the continued growth in Miniature cigars which now account for nearly 74% of total sales, allied with the rise in quality value for money brands like Moments.

Do you have any new news in the pipeline you can share with SLR readers?
As Cigar category champions we have a responsibility to ensure we are providing the market with great products which are on-trend, whilst also considering what’s coming next, and 2020 should have some exciting developments so watch this space!

What practical advice would you give to local retailers keen to maintain and grow their sales in the cigar category?
Aside from stocking the right brands which I’ve already addressed, I think there are one or two other things to consider. Retailers should invest in upskilling both themselves and their staff to develop their understanding on the different cigars available in each segment, and what type of consumer they are most suited for. Combining their insights on the category with their knowledge of the local customer base is vital. It’s important to tailor the range to appeal to local tastes.