With the ban on menthol tobacco products arriving in May, this year’s Vapril festival of vaping takes on added significance as menthol tobacco smokers begin looking for alternatives.
The annual month-long vaping event known as Vapril is a great chance for local retailers to rethink their vaping offer and step it up a gear when it comes to letting shoppers know about the range you stock and the health benefits of switching from tobacco products to vaping.
This year’s Vapril takes on added significance thanks to the May 20 ban on menthol tobacco products. There’s every chance that many of Scotland’s menthol tobacco consumers are already hunting for an alternative. This could drive significant new interest in the category and is a chance for retailers to focus more attention on communicating both the ban and the benefits of vaping to their customers.
Duncan Cunningham, UK Corporate Affairs Director at Imperial Tobacco & blu, comments: “The ban on menthol tobacco products will leave many existing adult smokers without their product of choice. However, this shift in consumer purchasing behaviour may present significant sales opportunities for retailers who are prepared for the changes and engage with shoppers ahead of the ban. Using the insight from conversations with smoker customers, retailers can shape their range and ensure it’s fit for purpose post-ban.”
A recent study of 350 retailers by JTI found that 45% of them believed their menthol tobacco customers would choose to shift into vaping and less harmful alternatives. Given that an estimated 26% of all tobacco sales are menthol or capsule products and all of them will be looking for alternatives, that represents a massive opportunity for retailers.
The key to unlocking sales growth undoubtedly lies in education. Nick Geens, Head of Logic and Reduced Risk Products at JTI UK, comments: “As vaping becomes more commonplace in the UK, more customers will turn to their retailers for advice and guidance on the category. If retailers wish to take full advantage of this opportunity, it is essential that they are well-equipped to assist. They must be educated and aware of recent developments, understand the needs of different vapers, and possess an in-depth knowledge of the various devices, liquids, and flavours available. To fully profit from the category staff must make sure they are comfortable passing on recommendations.”
Cunningham makes broadly the same point: “In order to succeed post-ban, it’s crucial that retailers and their staff understand what changes are coming and know what products and brands they have on offer in order to advise customers effectively. Training is key to success in this regard so taking time to talk staff through the ranges on offer will go a long way to help protect and maximise their sales post-ban.”
The last year has actually been a pretty good one for the vaping category. Despite some largely unfounded or inaccurate scare stories, the category is in growth.
Geens says: “It’s been a successful year for the vaping category, with a rise in sales across all grocery channels as vaping becomes more popular with consumers. As a brand, Logic has had great success in convenience particularly – with Logic now worth £10m in the last year, growing 45.2% year on year. [IRI, Dec 2019]. Much of this growth has been down to the sleek, pocket-sized design, Logic Compact device.”
Geens attributes the sales growth in the wider category to a number of factors including adult smokers seeking alternatives to the wide range of increasingly high quality products now readily available to vapers.
“Customers can choose from a wide variety of devices and flavours, and retailers with good stock levels encourage repeat custom,” he says. “Research has shown that almost a third of existing adult smokers choose to buy elsewhere if their brand is unavailable, which demonstrates the importance of maintaining availability.”
Imperial’s Cunningham is similarly optimistic about the future of the category and sees the menthol ban potentially triggering a big lift in interest in the category. He advises: “While some adult smokers may simply switch to other traditional tobacco alternatives, many menthol consumers may use the ban as an opportunity to explore new ways to stick with their flavour preference and move into vaping.
“To prepare for this potential influx of ex-menthol smokers into the vaping category, retailers should ensure they stock up on easy-to-use pod mod systems like myblu. Any devices on offer should be supported by a strong range of menthol e-liquids and Liquidpods, especially those including nicsalts like myblu Intense, to help heavier smokers switch. Regardless of the ban, the top-selling blu e-liquid flavour is menthol, so these variants are already very popular and well worth stocking up on.”
Geens agrees that nicotine salt products – nicsalts – are set to be a star of the show in 2020: “We predict that nicotine salts are also set to grow this year. Offering a smoother and more intense flavour delivery, nicotine salts present a significant profit opportunity for retailers whose customers seek a more enriched vaping experience.”
So the secret to a successful Vapril? Understand the category inside out, stock a strong range of leading brand solutions, ensure 100% availability of all popular products and make sure the category has great visibility in-store.