The overall tobacco category grew by 3.8% in value for the year to 2 October, helped by increases in both duty and VAT, but within that there was staggering growth for some of the lower-priced brands, while the most recognisable such as Marlboro, Benson & Hedges and Regal all suffered significant losses.
Imperial Tobacco's budget John Player Special Blue variant experienced by far the strongest growth of any grocery product sold this year up a massive 173.1% to £209.4m.
Rival JTI also enjoyed massive success for its low price brand, Sterling, with King Size up 67.1% and Superkings up 37.9%.
In stark contrast, premium cigarette brands all lost sales Marlboro Gold was down 2.4%, Benson & Hedges Gold was down 4.3% and Regal was down 11.3%. Overall, 632 million fewer cigarettes were sold but this was more than made up for by a 19.5% increase in the sale of roll-your-own tobacco, which smashed through the £1bn barrier with total sales of £1.14bn.
The figures suggest that price is the key factor for smokers in the current economic climate and will cast further doubt over the need for government to introduce plain packaging.
"Making all tobacco products available in the same, easy-to-copy generic plain packaging would potentially lead to a significant increase in counterfeit product," said Imperial Tobacco head of marketing Steve Brock. "Governments need to ask themselves whether they want tobacco products to be sold by a responsible, legitimate business or by organised crime gangs who have no regard for any regulation."
Elsewhere in Top Products, pet food has also had an excellent year, with volume and value sales up 13.3% and 4.4% respectively on the back of consumers trading up to more premium products for their pets.
Now worth £1.6bn, the category owes much to new first-placed Whiskas pouch's strong performance. The Mars product's 12.6% value increase added £19m to sales, boosting them to £169.8m.
Another category that posted strong growth was sports and energy drinks, with sales up £112m to £827.6m, driven by impressive Lucozade performances. Just one brand in this category, Powerade, failed to record value growth.
Cheese also had a good year. Despite constant promotions, particularly on Cheddar, value sales rose £12.7m. Of the big brands, Cathedral City saw its sales rise 8% to £208.7m and Dairylea's were up 5.2% to £106m. Reduced fat brand Low Low, which launched in mainland UK last April, got off to a great start, with sales up by 847.2% to £10.3m.
Other standout brands included Danone Activia, which was up by £22.2m to £237.6m and knocked Müller Corner into second place in yoghurts and desserts. Meanwhile, Kingsmill stood out in a struggling bread category as the only bread brand in value growth, with sales up 7.3% to £358.4m.
The brands covered in this year's Top Products survey are worth £72.5bn. Volume sales are up 1.1% on average, while value sales have risen 1.9%, or £23m. Own label sales are down 1.3% on average.
The category that has seen the biggest rise in own label sales is drinking yoghurt, up 18.9%, followed by sports and energy drinks, up 17%. Cold & flu remedies have seen the biggest value fall, of 5%.
The retro revival that’s so last season
Are we Brits losing our love affair with nostalgia? Our Top Products survey reveals that retro appeal failed to hit the mark with consumers this year. Bird's Eye Arctic Roll returned to the freezers in 2009 to great fanfare but sales fell 36.2% this year.
Another retro champion, Wispa, was down 2.4%, while sugar confectionery lines such as Bassetts Jelly Babies (6.5%), Allsorts (6.8%) and Sherbet Dip Dab owner Barratt (5.2%) floundered in the wake of modern upstarts Randoms and Haribo.
Some products enjoyed decent growth. Monster Munch (+34.1%) celebrated Halloween with limited edition packaging and Tizer (+15%) revamped its bottles. Panda Comfits relaunched as Panda Torpedoes in April with new flavours and a design change helping lift sales 37.7%.