Retailers with gantries under contract with Imperial Tobacco are calling for greater control of their tobacco ranges after accusing the company of trying to force competitor brands out.

A number of store owners who signed up with Imperial following the introduction of the display ban six months ago claim the firm is over-allocating space for its own brands.

The manufacturer recently altered planograms to remove Philip Morris products from its core range following the termination of a supply deal between the two firms.

Retailers also claim Imperial’s van sales reps have been “heavy-handed” in getting new tobacco lines on shelves despite a lack of space, leaving stores with boxes of unsold stock.

Peter Robinson, owner of Robinson Retail Ltd in Pembroke, has been threatened with legal action by Imperial for failing to comply with stock allocation conditions on his contract.

He said: “I was told that Imperial wanted 70% of the space for their lines, but I expected them to take a pragmatic approach.

“The space left isn’t suitable to hold even single facings of some competitor brands. I’m also getting van sales reps trying to get a basket full of stock on shelves that won’t fit.”

Cheshire retailer Steve Archer said he had JTI and Imperial gantries at two of his stores, but switched both to JTI before the display ban.

I was told that Imperial wanted 70% of the space for their lines, but I expected them to take a pragmatic approach

He said: “I felt Imperial were being quite heavy-handed in signing us up to agreements while JTI wanted to take a collaborative approach.”

Kevin Rutherford, owner of Queen Street Convenience Store in Morpeth, said: “We’ve had issues with the Imperial rep trying to re-merchandise our gantry, and have been asked to put more Imperial lines on it.”

A spokesperson for Imperial Tobacco responded: “Following a recent audit, retailers found to be repeatedly non-compliant were reminded of their contractual obligations.

“Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris Limited recently ended their sales and distribution agreement. Therefore, the share of space reserved for Imperial Tobacco products has been remerchandised to reflect this.”

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