The cigars haven’t attracted the same attention as the rest of the tobacco market as retailers prepare for the display ban.

Andy Swain, the field development manager at Ritmeester is ready to address this and has a plan for how retailers can maintain, and even, boost their profits when the changes come into force.

RN: What lessons have you learnt from working with the multiples that independents can benefit from?

Andy Swain Our sales through the multiple channels have continued to grow despite the market going dark, driven by value. In a dark environment, price becomes even more important. Consumers no longer have a shiny display to look at and will revert to “what’s your cheapest brand?”

RN: Are there any new consumer trends that retailers should be aware of within the sector?

AS: The filtered cigarillo market continues to grow in Europe, driven by the Moods range. It now accounts for nearly 50% of the European cigarillo market and Mini Moods and Moods Filter continue to grow to deliver double digit growth in the UK. They are a fantastic crossover product which appeals to cigar and cigarette smokers.

RN: How has recent legislation changed the category? What dos and don’ts should retailers know?

AS: It’s actually good news for this sector. Cigars and cigarillos will likely be exempt from plain packaging, flavour characterisation and quantity restrictions as it currently stands.

RN: Which specific products work best in convenience and why?

AS: Products with a good value for money message sell very well in convenience. For this reason pricemarked cigars do exceptionally well in independent stores, as with cigarettes and RYO.

RN: How should the category be merchandised?

AS: The same as any other category – retailers should be offering brand leaders and a value alternative. I have lost count of the number of shops I have been to, who tell me they don’t stock cigars because they don’t sell. Yet I can visit the shop next door and find 5/6 lines on sale and selling. Consumers will go where they know they can get the product, and stay there.

RN: What support are you providing to retailers over the next six months?

AS: We continue to invest in our UK sales force, advising retailers about the often-neglected cigar category. We are also looking to offer some small cigar-specific units that can fit on the side of gantries and have their own curtains. These will be free to the right locations, and will help make cigars visible so a choice can be made.

RN: What challenges will the dark market present in terms of product innovation?

AS: There is no doubt new lines will be difficult to introduce in a dark market. It’s all about education of the retailer and, at Ritmeester, we want the retailer to understand the category and the products. They need to be the expert for most consumers. If they want something different from their everyday cigarettes, the retailer needs to understand how cigarillos can be a great alternative and recommend them. Customer relationships will become more and more important.