A third of all convenience store owners in England would stop the sale of cigarettes in favour of smoke- free products to help adult smokers switch, new analysis by KAM and Lake Research, commissioned by Philip Morris Limited (PML), has found.

Aman Uppal, a retailer at One Stop Mount Nod in Coventry

The Big Switch Report was commissioned to discover whether convenience retailers in England were helping smokers switch away from cigarettes by improving access to, and awareness of, smoke-free products, like e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn products.

The research involving 1,400+ convenience store owners and over 1,000 former adult smokers, found a positive correlation in the number of retailers stocking alternatives and a reduction in smoking prevalence rates in many parts of England over the past five years.

The findings also revealed a growing movement of retailers feeling motivated into helping customers abandon cigarettes, by shifting their businesses towards smoke-free products which has shed new light on the important, and largely unseen role, convenience retailers are playing to help communities go smoke-free.

Aman Uppal, who runs One Stop Mount Nod, a family-run convenience store in Coventry, said: “I’ve converted three generations of one family to smoke-free alternatives. As a retailer, I have an opportunity to introduce these products into my community and get people away from cigarettes which is something I believe in. I am seeing other retailers doing the same thing, which is hugely positive.”

Other key findings from the report include:

    • 42% of store owners think it likely their community will be smoke-free by 2030
    • 42% of store owners say the main reason to stock smoke-free products is to switch adult

smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke to a less harmful alternative

    • 59% of store owners consider the smoke-free category ‘the future of sales’
    • 64% of former smokers now using smoke-free alternatives feel a convenience store is an appropriate place for smokers to be advised about smoke-free products

The report found several challenges preventing retailers from helping to switch smokers to alternative products. Many lack sufficient knowledge in the smoke-free category which has impacted consumer confidence. A percentage worry about building a sustainable business without combustible products. There are also regional variations on the willingness to go completely smoke- free, with Coventry (58%) and Northampton (16%) at either ends of the spectrum.

Overall, the Big Switch offers a positive outlook as to how retailers in England could be accelerating the journey towards a smoke-free future, by helping smokers abandon cigarettes for good.

Christian Woolfenden, Managing Director at PML, said: “The Big Switch Report reveals how switching adult smokers from cigarettes to smoke-free products has become a new pillar of community-focused retailing. Rather than retaining customers as cigarette smokers, convenience retailers are building stronger connections over the countertop to improve awareness of, and access to, alternative products like e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn products.

“As the only tobacco company purposefully working to phase out cigarettes completely, we will continue to support retailers, so they’re able to communicate the benefits of smoke-free alternatives to their adult customers who are unable to quit tobacco and nicotine products completely.”

James Lowman, Chief Executive at the Association of Convenience Retailers (ACS), the voice of over 33,500 local shops nationwide, added: “Convenience store retailers are embedded in their communities, with a reach unlike any other sector in the UK grocery market.

“This community grounding of convenience stores enables the people running and working in stores to be acutely in tune with the needs of their customers, but retailers also need to look at data from wider research to keep abreast of trends.

“The e-cigarette and smoke-free category is changing fast, so it’s important to understand consumer attitudes and benchmark with your own experiences and sales information.”

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