With ‘closed’ pod-based vaping systems now the leading growth driver, what do retailers need to do to try to leverage the category in 2021?
There’s no doubt that 2020 was a remarkable year in many ways that saw shopping habits transformed beyond belief and sales across many categories – and so it was with the vaping category that had appeared to stall after several years of enormous growth.
The menthol ban last May kick started a fresh spike in vaping sales as adult smokers sought out new ways to securing their menthol hit. For many of those consumers, the easiest way of transitioning from cigarettes to vaping was through intuitive click-and-play pod-based systems and in August this year, ‘closed’ pod-based systems finally overtook open systems as the leading sector and biggest growth driver.
Worryingly, however, IRI data shows that independent retailers only account for about 30% of closed system sales with the rest going via the supermarkets who were quicker to embrace the category and have seen the benefit.
So is the big opportunity for local retailers in 2021 to really get behind pods?
John Patterson, Sales Director of JUUL Labs UK, certainly thinks so and the company is helping retailers grab more share with the launch of a new price-marked pack for its JUUL Starter Kit.
The prominent £19.99 price mark is aimed to reassure shoppers that they are being charged a fair price and Patterson sees it as a major move in helping retailers grow their share.
“By offering a more accessible entry point, we hope to offer more adult smokers further alternatives to combustible cigarettes and more options to transition away from tobacco, which remains the largest cause of preventable death in the UK,” says Patterson.
“Adult smokers use their local convenience store on a regular basis to purchase their cigarettes and convenience retailers are ideal places to offer these smokers alternatives to combustible tobacco products.”
While pod systems are in the ascendancy, Duncan Cunningham, UK Corporate Affairs Director at Imperial Tobacco & blu, still recommends that retailers stock at least on one open and one closed system from a big-name manufacturer, suggesting blu as the ideal brand.
“Pod-mod systems like myblu should also be a focus as they have become increasingly popular thanks to their ease of use and flexibility,” says Cunningham. “And the range of devices on offer should always be supported with a strong portfolio of e-liquids, especially fruit and menthol flavours, in a variety of nicotine strengths, including nicsalts like myblu Intense, to cater for all tastes. Our best-selling variant in the myblu range is the Menthol Intense Liquidpod so we would highly recommend this as a must-stock for all retailers. The myblu Menthol Intense liquidpods are available to buy at £5.99 RRP for a pack of two.”
Nick Geens, Head of Reduced Risk Products at JTI UK, comments: “Vapers are looking for convenient and easy-to-use devices that they can experiment with in terms of flavours and strengths to find the right fit. Our premium pod device, Logic Compact, offers a convenient and modern alternative to traditional vaping products and couldn’t be easier to use, with pre-filled e-liquid pods that click magnetically into place.”
Cunningham does, however, share Patterson’s view on the important of capitalising on the huge shift to convenience seen under coronavirus. “As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, many customers have started shopping locally or online, in part because they are less willing to go far from home for their products,” he says. “Therefore, there is an opportunity for convenience stores to retain customers of vape products that might shop elsewhere (such as specialist vape stores) under normal circumstances.”
Therefore, customer service and strong category knowledge have crucial roles to play at present, given the in-store restrictions because of the pandemic. Many consumers won’t wish to handle products in order to look at them before they buy and may also not want to ask questions at the till point to avoid queues building up behind them. Cunningham says: “Retailers need to be prepared to proactively offer them advice at the till point and help shoppers feel at ease by providing knowledgeable answers to their questions that really showcase their understanding of the category.”
Now more than ever, investing in education is key to retaining new and existing vape customers. If retailers don’t invest in training their staff on the products on offer, there’s a strong chance they’ll miss out on sales.