Closing the deal

Serving a customer vaping products

Convenient closed pod and disposable devices continue to ignite the UK’s growing vape sector.

By Gaelle Walker

Sales momentum in the UK’s dynamic vape sector appears to have had something of a jump-start in recent months, with retailers across the country reporting noteworthy sales boosts since December 2021.

In-fact, IRI year-on-year data for the 12 weeks to 26 December 2021 reveals that e-cigarettes, together with oral nicotine, worked to offset a £46m year-on-year decline in the factory-made cigarette (FMC) sector – with a combined sales increase of £48m.

E-cigarettes contributed over 92% of this growth (£44.5m) with an additional 6.6 million e-cigarette units sold over the period – a hike which helped the sector to post growth of 54% in value and 39% volume.

Fuelling this rise were closed pod and disposable devices, which, thanks to their ultra-convenient, easy to use, yet effective formats, are continuing to draw ex-smokers in at greater and greater levels.

And, thanks to recent product upgrades and the increasingly wide range of innovative new flavours, that demand looks well set to continue climbing well into 2022 and beyond.

The recent vaping awareness month of VApril, which after two years as an online only event returned with a bang for 2022, will also undoubtedly have provided the sector with a further boost – helping smokers quit tobacco with the aid of a vape device.

Relx International senior trade marketing manager Micaela Sangiovanni says: “The category has seen significant increase in demand from existing adult smokers and vapers, who are looking for convenience, quick in-store transactions with little guidance from a salesperson and easy to operate vaping systems.

“As demand for convenience continues to grow as a key shopper trend when selecting a next-gen nicotine device, we suspect closed and disposable pod vapes will continue to grow in popularity and gain traction at the expense of their open-system counterpart.”

Top tips

Imperial Tobacco UK consumer marketing Tom Gully shares his advice to help retailers grow their vape sales:

  • Education: Given the varied experience of shoppers in the vape category, it is really important for retailers to be equipped to offer advice that can be tailored to each customer. It’s essential staff know what products are stocked and where they are on the gantry, so they easily find them. This is especially key for best-selling lines so they can always keep an eye on stock levels. This should also be a focus for any liquids or accessories, so they know to upsell where possible.
  • Spot the signs: Look out for shoppers who may be too shy or feel uncomfortable asking for help. It might be that they simply glance at the vape display or PoS on offer, or perhaps ask for a brand that you don’t stock and are about to walk away. Encouraging staff to proactively engage with these shoppers and offer to help them will put them at ease.
  • Feel familiar: Allowing staff to handle the products and get to know the different components using demonstration models, or sample liquids, will help them understand more about how they work, so they can pass this information onto customers. Using similar demonstration models can also be a great way to educate customers on the devices before they buy.
  • Liquid lines: The range of devices on offer should always be supported with a strong portfolio of e-liquids. These tend to fall into four main flavour categories, including fresh, fruity, earthy and sweet, so we’d recommend stocking a range that covers all of these profiles. The range should also include a variety of nicotine strengths, including nicsalts to cater for all tastes.
  • Next up: Keep one eye on the emerging trends in next generation nicotine products and be prepared to adapt your range. Consider making room for a small sample of new products to assess shopper interest prior to investing heavily.

One retailer who is certainly reporting an uptick in sales of closed pod and in particular disposable devices, is Saleem Sadiq, of Spar Renfrew in Glasgow.

“I never believed vape would take off and come anything close to tobacco volumes but I’ve been proved wrong,” he says.

“As a category vape has suddenly really pushed the boundaries and is now a key footfall driver.

“Every store is different, and in ours, convenient and easy to use disposable and closed pod devices are by far the biggest sellers.

“In the last few months, ultra-convenient disposable devices have in-fact outstripped sales of closed pod devices, while refillable devices and e-liquids have almost died a death and we’ve cut back almost completely on those.

“Adult vapers are definitely more drawn to the convenience of the disposable and closed pod formats, which thanks to recent innovations are now performing better than ever and far more closely replicating the experience of smoking a tobacco cigarette.”

When it comes to product innovations, the Juul brand most certainly deserves a mention following the launch of its next-generation Juul2 system into retail on 18 April.

The upgraded system, which underwent six months of successful e-commerce trials prior to launch, features an array of updates including newly designed Juul2 pods, with 70% more e-liquid per pod.

The system also offers a “more consistent vapour experience,” that it says better competes with combustible cigarettes.

It also features a larger battery with over 20% more capacity than the original Juul.

Retailer View

Saleem Sadiq, Spar Renfrew

“In our store, convenient and easy to use disposable and closed pod devices are by far the biggest sellers. In the last few months, ultra-convenient disposable devices have in fact outstripped sales of closed pod devices, while refillable products and e-liquids have almost died a death and we’ve cut back almost completely on those.

“When it comes to disposables, we stock a range of brands, but Elf Bar and Geek Bar are by far our biggest sellers.

“The category just sells itself, shoppers come into our store knowing exactly what brands and flavours they want.

“That’s not to say we don’t have to put any work into it though, good merchandising principles such as keeping a close eye on stock levels and display are key to keep the offer looking as good as possible. The range of flavours now on offer is unbelievable; we stock well over 50 different flavours and the juicy, fruit ones are by far the best sellers.

“All vape products are merchandised within a dedicated vape gantry behind our counter as well as on an array of counter-top display units.”

Designed with “adult smokers in mind” the new Juul2 pods are available in six menthol and tobacco flavours including: Virginia Tobacco, Polar Menthol, Crisp Menthol, Ruby Menthol and Summer Menthol, plus a newly launched Autumn Tobacco, which features “tangy orchard harvest notes”.

Each 18 mg/ml nicotine strength pod is only compatible with the new Juul2 device.

The device is also supported by a new Juul2 app which gives users insights into their usage and allows them to keep track of their device and locate it if lost.

In a bid to combat the illicit trade and underage use, the Juul2 and app also automatically check and confirm product authenticity when new Juul2 pods are added.

Commenting on the roll-out, Juul Labs’ EMEA VP Dan Thomson said: “Following a successful online pilot launch, we are pleased to release the next-generation Juul2 for sale nationwide through our retail partners in the UK.”

“We have been encouraged by the number of existing Juul users who have transitioned to the new system since launching on our UK website and we look forward to providing even more adult smokers with an alternative to combustible cigarettes.

“It’s critically important that alternatives can continue to compete with cigarettes, especially when it comes to the point of purchase, and with Juul2, we believe we are taking another step in that direction.”

Starter Kits, which include a Device, Charging Dock, Virginia Tobacco and Crisp Menthol Juul2 pods will launch with an RSP of £9.99 while new Juul2 pod packs will enter the market at £6.99.

Relx International has also been busy playing the innovation game having just introduced a new Relx Starter Kit.

Launched on 28 March, in time for the start of the annual VApril campaign, the Relx Starter Kit includes one pre-charged black Relx Essential (the brand’s most popular device) plus one closed pod, either Fresh Red or Menthol Plus flavour, along with a USB charging cable.

Supplier Q&A

CJ Lang & Son/Spar Scotland senior trading manager Mark Spalding

How is the vape market currently performing for CJ Lang?

We have seen the vape category grow significantly over the past two years, bolstered by the effects of lockdowns which led to many more customers shopping locally.

Sales have continued to grow year-on-year, despite the fact that we are lapping last year’s severe restrictions, with vape outperforming tobacco sales as more consumers move away from traditional factory-made cigarettes.

What key trends are driving vape sales?

E-liquid and closed system refills/pods dominate sales, between them accounting for around 75-80% of total category sales.

Disposable devices have seen a sharp rise in demand over the past months with a number of new disposable brands such as Geek, Elf Bar and Dot Go having entered the market.

In recent years, major technological advances within vape by manufacturers have made disposables much more dependable and functional. They are also very convenient and affordable, making them the ideal entry point for consumers wishing to move away from traditional cigarettes and try vaping for the first time.

What other good news do you have for retailers about vape?

The category will continue to grow as more tobacco smokers move into vape, seeing it as a ‘healthier’ and more affordable alternative. This, in turn, will see vape take an increasingly bigger share of the overall tobacco category, increasing overall category margin as a result.