Be positive about the future of tobacco, invest in the category and you will be rewarded, representatives from the UK’s four biggest manufacturers told independent retailers this week.

Senior figures from JTI, Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris and British American Tobacco (BAT) presented and answered retailers’ questions on best practice and the future of the category at the NFRN’s annual conference in Torquay.

Jeremy Blackburn, head of communications at JTI, said: “Retailers have the dexterity to face this change, but you need to invest for success and be proactive.”

“Retailers have the dexterity to face this change, but you need to invest for success and be proactive.”

He encouraged retailers to collaborate with suppliers and keep a constant dialogue with customers and reps. “The best source of insight comes from your most unhappy customers,” he said.

Gerry Margolis, UK sales director at Philip Morris, said retailers should embrace changes from plain packaging and EUTPD II legislation and “play to win”.



Has there been an impact on sales since plain packaging was introduced in Australia?

Tobacconists in Australia were the only retail segment in growth since the introduction of plain packaging in 2012, he said, with sales up 5.6%. Sales were down in c-stores, supermarkets and hypermarkets, by 0.1%, 2.5% and 3% respectively, broadly in line with current global tobacco sales.

“You can be the UK’s tobacconists,” he said. “Train your staff to talk to customers about the products you carry, pricing, and when 10s and pricemarks start disappearing. The service you offer gives you a big advantage over the multiples. Take advantage of it.”

Peter Nelson, anti-illicit trade manager at Imperial Tobacco, highlighted the benefit of retailers taking a proactive approach to fighting illicit trade, which has been forecast to grow with the arrival of plain packaging. “There have been cases where retailers’ trade has been boosted by £1,000 a week post-raids,” he said.

Rory Cotter, BAT head of trade, said retailers should focus on their customers.

“With the display ban, we just focused on doors and not what customers were seeing. Look at e-cigarettes though a customer lens,” he said. “It’s a dynamic category that’s growing from consumer demand.”