A Section for What?

Embracing alternative smoking products is a trend the industry should not ignore.


Often I am asked what I would do if I was a tobacco category manager today as I peered into the future. Simply, I would practice good sound category management. I would look at what products meet my consumer’s needs in the future and aggressively embrace the opportunities that change brings to my business.

Presently, I am working with several retailers who have asked me this question, and together we are working on what we call “The No Smoke Zone.” Their consumers are looking for options when they can’t smoke. We believe it’s important to embrace the future—a future that one day has a section specifically designated to products for consumers who choose not to smoke or just can’t smoke.

A quick observation of the “new tobacco” that is being developed shows manufacturers are expanding products to include options for consumers who can’t or choose not to smoke. Retailers need to be driving the category management of this new tobacco selection. Here’s some important questions to consider: Why would a product like snus be placed in the cigarette set? Why would snus brands be placed apart from each other, and not in a distinct snus department? Why would moist snuff be placed in the cigarette set? Is this proper category management? Seems a bit self-serving.

Think about this from the perspective of the smoker who is looking for options. If they are in the c-store and looking for a snus product or perhaps a pouch moist snuff product, what do they see? Are the snus products merchandised together in a snus section? Can they easily determine which moist snuff product is the regular loose product versus the portion pouch they would like to try? Are prices clearly visible? Remember there is virtually no time for smokers to shop the tobacco section since it’s behind the counter and they may have people in line behind them.


Accommodating Alternatives

To the smoker actively looking for options, it must seem like the smokers’ alternative category is a secret club to which he doesn’t belong. He shouldn’t need to be a private investigator to find these products.  

Convenience retailers need to recognize the size and importance of this universe of consumers and do the right things to satisfy their unmet needs. Retailers need to look at all the options, apply proper management and clearly define the category and its space. A look at the beverage cooler illustrates my point. Typically the doors are merchandized by likeness of product. Carbonated beverage doors, tea doors, water doors and so on. Makes me wonder why snus are merchandized with cigarettes.

My point is that leading retailers set the stage for future successes—they see the opportunities. They will do the research and find that there are many new products available to offer to consumers who are looking for options. If they don’t meet the needs of these shoppers, they risk losing them to a competitor who is making the effort to court them. Again, my point is that retailers will drive the true success—they must take control of smokers’ alternatives, search for the products and market them well.

As mentioned, I’m working with several retailers who have a vision. They are implementing planned-out sections in their locations to meet the needs of shoppers by offering the right products, right promotions, right prices, right point of sale and right in-store placement. They see snus, dissolvable, aromatherapy, electronic devices and many other options, and they may one day even see the need to further segment their offer. 

But clearly, they’re looking to meet the needs of consumers right now.

Lou Maiellano spent more than 20 years in several operational positions with Sunoco, Mobil and Wawa and currently operates TobaccoToday (www.tobaccotoday.info), an interactive tobacco industry blog. He can be reached at (267) 229-3856 or via email at tazmktgconsultgr@aol.com.


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