As the UK vaping market continues to mature, the major brands are making the running. Imperial Brands’ bestselling blu brand has been running a high-profile consumer ad campaign over the summer, winning over former smokers looking for quality products from a brand they can trust.
Meanwhile the stream of blu NPD continues. The blu UK team are constantly exploring ways to further strengthen their range of vaping devices and liquids, using the best in vaping technology, and this has inspired their latest launch, a new, improved Golden Tobacco flavour complementing the existing myblu range.
Chris Street, Head of Trade Marketing at blu UK, spoke to Wholesale Manager: “My job is focused on creating the tools and activities to support our customers and our sales team. We visit trade customers and consumers, and run in-depth retailer panels throughout the year, to keep our knowledge fresh and up to date. We regularly support our wholesale customers with tactics tailored to their individual depot needs such as depot days and promotions, but one of our biggest areas of focus is education.”
While online retailers and vape stores are cashing in on the category by offering informed, specialist advice to customers, says Chris, traditional retailers are currently missing out: “With a dizzying number of different devices and liquids available, many retailers may be understandably intimidated by the sheer breadth of the vape offering. These retailers need extensive advice on what to buy and reassurances on product quality, so it’s vital that depot staff understand not only what products they are selling, but also the end customers they are selling to.”
Training is key to success in this regard, Chris continues, and by taking the time to educate all staff on the category, and the different terminology used, wholesalers can provide an exceptional level of service to customers that will encourage them to return to the depot again and again: “From general product education, through to advice on must-stock products and in-store displays and promotions, we work very closely with wholesalers, helping them maximise vaping sales.”
Imperial Brands is an international fast-moving consumer goods company born out of a strong tobacco heritage, says Chris, and has evolved as a business to embrace changing market dynamics and develop new consumer experiences:
“We are currently witnessing the biggest consumer shift in our history, with millions of smokers around the world choosing to switch to less harmful Next Generation Products (NGP) such as myblu. As a result, we are increasingly focusing our attention on developing and expanding our NGP portfolio, the predominant focus of which is vaping products.”
The vaping category is widely referred to in the industry as Next Generation Products (NGP), as it is concerned with moving consumers on from tobacco to next generation products. Imperial Brands entered the NGP market in 2009, as Chris recalls:
“Working with the brightest minds in the vaping sector – including Hon Lik, the inventor of the e-cigarette – Imperial created the original skycig cigalike. Nine years later, in 2018, we launched our signature myblu device after two years of careful development and testing. The popularity of this breakthrough pod mod device demonstrates blu’s understanding of the needs of today’s vapers.
“These figures are only expected to rise,” says Chris, “which is no surprise when you consider the significant lifestyle and cost benefits compared to traditional tobacco. However, currently only a minority of vape sales stem from traditional retail outlets, suggesting a real growth opportunity for wholesalers and retailers who are prepared to invest in upskilling their staff and educating them on the category.”
In addition, says Chris, it is expected that the 40% of smokers who have never tried vaping will increasingly take Public Health England’s advice and switch, after PHE concluded vaping is around 95% less harmful than traditional tobaccoiv.
In a crowded vaping marketplace, Imperial Brands’ signature myblu device stands out from the crowd, says Chris: “From the lightweight and rapid charging time, to the smooth curved edges that sit comfortably in your hand or pocket, we have created a truly innovative product which delivers instant vaping satisfaction. Thanks to its exceptional performance and vaping experience, coupled with its sleek, easy-to-use pod mod design, myblu has grown extensively in distribution and availability.”
Alongside myblu, Imperial Brands have also introduced their Intense Liquidpods featuring Nicotine Salts (nicsalts), Chris explains how they work:
“Devised by smokers for smokers, nicsalts result in nicotine being absorbed into the body faster than normal e-liquids. This rapid absorption of nicotine through nicsalts allows myblu Intense to more closely replicate the experience of smoking a traditional cigarette, appealing to adult smokers looking to switch for the first time, or those who have tried vaping in the past and haven’t been completely convinced.”
myblu is blu’s leading pod mod device, offering vapers and smokers a much simpler format to use and an easier experience in the transition from smoking to vaping. In terms of liquids, outside of menthol variants, research shows that fruit-based flavours are increasingly preferred.v Three of the five top-selling blu e-liquid flavours are fruit-based – No.1 menthol, No.2 blueberry, No.3 tobacco, No.4 strawberry mint and No.5 cherryvi.
Completing the lineup, the latest addition to the myblu portfolio is a new Starter Pack featuring the Intense Liquidpods. Rolling out into stores now, the new myblu Intense Starter Kit includes the popular pod mod vape device and USB charger, along with two Intense Liquidpods, at an RRP of £19.99. The Intense Liquidpods that come with the kit include Menthol and Golden Tobacco variants, two of blu’s best-selling e-liquid flavoursvii.
Explaining the rationale behind the latest launch, Chris says: “Our latest market insights show adult smokers need to experience different flavours in order to really commit to vaping and make the switch a permanent lifestyle change. They also want and expect a nicotine delivery more similar to a traditional cigarette, something our Intense range looks to satisfy, thanks to the inclusion of nicsalts. Launched in response to this growing demand, our new Intense Starter Kit offers a range of flavours with a rapid nicotine delivery that will help make the switch easier from cigarettes to vaping.”
The wholesalers’ support is crucial to the growth of the vaping category in the UK, says Chris, and effective in-depot displays are key:
“For wholesalers, generating buzz around the depot floor can create real impact. Vaping products don’t need to be restricted to the tobacco room, so we recommend merchandising blu products and promotions in other high footfall areas like at the checkout, with PoS and other dynamic display solutions to grab the attention of shoppers. Likewise, within convenience stores, you can display, advertise and promote vaping products in and around the store. Eye-catching PoS and countertop display units can really help drive visibility and grab the attention of shoppers as soon as they walk through your door.”
Imperial Brands are committed to backing blu above the line with high-profile media activity. They ran a major campaign over the summer to tap into key social moments, raise consumer awareness of vaping and encourage adult smokers to switch to myblu, as a less harmful alternative to cigarettes. Live from June to September the campaign included a heavy presence of outdoor advertising and brand activations across cities nationwide, with the aim of getting the nation to stand up and take notice first, then action, by switching to something better with blu.
Looking to the future, the continuous evolution of vaping technology, allied to changing consumer trends, makes this an incredibly fast-moving and exciting category, says Chris: “As the vaping market matures, championing innovation and product quality is essential for brands to maintain relevance with consumers. New research has found that many vapers across the whole industry are looking to improve their vaping experience and blu is at the forefront of this. We have some exciting developments in the pipeline and will share these with your readers when the time is right. Watch this space for further details.”