April 20, 2021
E-liquids remain a vital part of many stores sales and need a little time and effort to get right. Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski talks to the experts
As a relatively cheap format with a huge array of flavours available, e-liquids retain their central place in the vape category for retailers and vapers alike.
“E-liquids provide a huge variety of choice which meet all vapers’ needs – from the beginner vaper looking for an alternative to cigarettes with nic salts at high nicotine strengths or the versatility of 50:50 liquids, through to 30:70 high VG liquids at lower strengths, for the experienced, established vaper,” says John Taylor, chief marketing officer for Vape Dinner Lady. “The varying nicotine strengths across these formulations supports adult smokers as they initially transition into vape as an alternative to cigarettes, and then through their vaping journey to help reduce their nicotine in-take.”
Taylor, meanwhile, also describes the e-liquid sector as at the “heart” of the firm’s mission.
This growth in e-cigarette flavours and formats is shared among a number of specialist brands, according to Luke Van Dijk, sales director at Flavour Warehouse. “When our Vampire Vape brand was established in 2012, we began with just 12 core flavours, but this has expanded dramatically over the years and now dominates this space offering in excess of 50. All of our liquids are produced here in the UK, and we employ experienced full-time flavourists to ensure each vape captures the genuine flavour it is aiming for. Fun branding and a range of imaginative e-liquids make Vampire Vape perennially popular stocked in over 90 percent of independent vape stores and an extensive range of leading convenience, forecourt and retail outlets.”
Van Dijk also underlines the flexibility that the e-liquid market offers: “A range of nicotine strengths and VG ratios, means we offer something for all tastes and needs and you can use them with a full range of kits and tanks.”
One of the biggest brands to have found a place on the counters of the UK’s convenience retailers, meanwhile, is EDGE.
“EDGE offers a comprehensive range of e-liquid flavours to suit all tastes, holding some of the most sought-after flavours within convenience,” says Chris Carr, sales director at Edge brand-owner NextGen360. “Now the UK’s No1 Vape Liquid brand, EDGE offers retailers chance to stock some of the strongest performing products in category. Very Menthol 6mg is the number three e-liquid sold across traditional retail in the UK, EDGE Cherry Menthol 6mg is the ninth bestselling e-liquid in convenience, and eight out of the top 25 e-liquids sold in traditional UK retail (including ASDA) are EDGE products. Furthermore, 17 out of the top 25 e-liquids sold in convenience belong to the EDGE range, as are 19 out of the top 25 e-liquids sold in symbols (e.g. Costcutter, Nisa).”
While the sheer breadth of choice available to e-liquids customers has ensure they retain relevance as closed pod systems have grown in recent years, the sector has also thrived during the strains of pandemic, suppliers say.
According to JTI – whose Logic Epiq range of nic salt-based e-liquids launched last year – the impact of COVID-19 has presented an opportunity for particular growth in this part of the market.
Gemma Bateson, head of Logic and reduced risk products at the firm says: “The pandemic has affected the way we all do our weekly shop – from ordering essentials online through to changing the way tobacco products are purchased. The vaping category has been especially affected since vape stores were first forced to shut down in early 2020, as they fell into the category of ‘non-essential’ shops. This has meant that adult vapers have had to look elsewhere to stock up on their vaping e-liquids and devices – turning to trusted local shops and supermarkets.
Evidence from the first lockdown and easing last year suggests there will be long-term benefits for newsagents and convenience stores. “From mid-March to June 2020, sales of e-cigarettes grew by 18 percent in traditional retail, prior to vape stores reopening,” Bateson says. “At first, more people were inclined to visit their local shop because of their convenience and perceived safeness, with independent stores seeing the biggest increase with a substantial 33 percent rise in sales. Convenience stores followed with a 16 percent rise and key grocers at nine percent as adult vapers looked to other channels as vape stores remained closed.”
“Despite vape stores reopening on June 15th, sales of e-cigarettes in traditional retail remained 7 percent higher than their level pre-pandemic – with independent stores retaining the highest share of sales at 11 percent. In November, sales boosted again, increasing by 8 percent in traditional retail and 13 percent in independents stores.”
With e-liquids performing such a crucial function to the industry, it is important that stores have the correct range to ensue they capitalise. According to John Taylor at Vape Dinner Lady, this is something of a balancing act:
“The most successful vaping ranges need to be partnered with recognised brands – following a ‘good, better, best’ model with at least one brand in each category. Then, within that, the products need to be well curated to offer the right choices for the retailer’s customer base.
“By working with a well-known, premium e-liquid brand like Dinner Lady, retailers will find their vape range is successful, as customers recognise the brand and that pull will help generate a great rate of sale for retailers. But the key is tailoring the range to the local demographic, through the careful analysis of our in-house data, and combining that with bespoke retail solutions created specifically for the individual retail environment in question. We will always support our retail partners in building their range, and demonstrating the best product mix of e-liquid formulations, flavours and strengths.”
Another area that should be of particular focus is menthol vaping liquids, according to Ebrahim Kathrada at Aquavape:
“Menthol flavours are a must have and have seen an increase in sales since the menthol cigarette ban and we have also seen an increase in disposable devices which are a convenient way for smokers to get the hit they require without the fuss.”
Kathrada also believes stores need to remember that they’re catering for a range of customers from novices to experts: “A must in any range in to have a something for a new vapour and also something for an advanced one. In addition, you must have a range of liquids from zero nicotine to 20mg. This would ensure that most people are getting serviced within your store,” he says.
A final thought should be given to the vital role that e-liquids play in vape’s wider mission: moving smokers off combustible tobacco for good.
“Vaping has repeatedly been cited as the most effective alternative to cigarettes, by the likes of Public Health England, ASH and the Cochrane Review,” says John Taylor at Vape Dinner Lady. “Researchers have found vaping to be at least twice as effective as traditional nicotine replacement therapies, such as gum and patches, when combined with stop smoking support. The most recent figures from PHE showed vaping was the most popular tool in the journey to quitting smoking, with 27.2 percent of people having used a vape product as part of a quit attempt during the past 12 months – and the highest quit rate (74 percent) was seen when people used a licensed medicine and a vaping product, one after another.”
Surely, this alone is motivation enough for many stores to embrace the e-liquids market. That it is also a fast-growing, high-margin category should seal the deal.
Focus on e-liquids in your store
Cater for all customer types
Ensure your store has options available for new vapers and expert vapers alike by offering varying formats and strengths of vapes. Nic salts, for example, are a great way of giving new vapers a cigarette-like ‘hit’ from their vape.
Flavour – the more the merrier
Offering a wide range of flavours provides more options for vapers but also gives stores a better chance of competing with specialist stores. Menthol flavours are particularly important, particularly post-menthol tobacco ban.
Invest in brands
From emerging brands to those backed by existing tobacco firms, popular names are well established in this sector and customers will likely come in with an idea of which brands they want to purchase already.
Keep up to date on trends and launches
Trends such as nic salts have been on a journey from ‘hot new thing’ to established part of the market in little more than a year. Keep up-to-date by talking to suppliers and reading the trade press (that’s us!).