And the winner of the Top Product in our Top Products Survey is… the ElfBar, an impish e-cigarette that has captured the hearts, minds and lungs of the Zoomer Generation.
These garishly colourful little sticks, available in myriad sweet shop flavours, are selling faster than hot cakes, gaining an outlandish £314m in extra sales, coming from nowhere to completely dominate the vaping market – while hitting the cigarette trade and even roll your own tobacco sales.
Their meteoric rise is a reminder of two things: first, the importance of the independent convenience channel as an engine of innovation and sales. It was only in October that ElfBars went into Tesco, quickly followed by Asda, having secured listings at Sainsbury’s and Morrisons over the summer. So it means the ElfBar has done the lion’s share of its trade without the heft of the supermarkets. Incredible.
And second, the ElfBar is a testament to the impact of truly brilliant marketing, especially when allied with the addictive qualities of nicotine.
The product, manufactured to exacting industrial standards in China, is instantly appealing to look at, to hold, to smell and – with flavours like bubblegum and cheesecake – to taste.
The price is affordable: between £5 and £6 at the supermarkets for a device that gives you 600 puffs. Given the average puff per cigarette is around seven, that’s amazing value.
The route to market (or place) has been the ubiquitous corner shops and high street vape stores of Great Britain, plus specialist websites, and now further boosted by entry into the UK’s supermarket chains – and crucially (unlike tobacco) it is visible on shelf in front of the gantry.
And promotion, whether via packaging that has minimal warnings – and certainly no graphic and gruesome images (unlike tobacco) – or via advertising (also unlike tobacco), or more controversially, via social media influencers.
Nor is the brand resting on its laurels. NPD continues at pace – Elf Bar launched a replaceable pod device this summer, and in October a 400 puff, compact ‘cigalike’ device.
It’s been an extraordinary rise to fame and fortune for the Chinese brand which only launched in 2018, and was languishing in 18th position in our Top Products Survey last year.
Two questions remain: will regulators clamp down on the ElfBar and vaping in general given the upsurge among young adults and children? The EU is already proposing a ban on flavoured vapes and, ironically, they’re already banned in China.
And how will tobacco suppliers respond? We’ve recently seen BAT join the fray with a throwaway Vuse device. But it will certainly be hard to beat ElfBar at its game. But the experience of Philip Morris/Altria with its $13bn acquisition of Juul (now valued at $450m following a ban on flavoured vapes) will make tobacco manufacturers cautious over any purchase – if the owners even want to sell, of course.