Supermarkets risk missing out on the burgeoning e-cigs market to the growing number of specialist vaping shops and cafés, the boss of British American tobacco’s e-cigarettes division has warned.

Nigel Hardy, head of UK and Ireland at Nicoventures, compared the arrival of these specialist stores on UK high streets in the last year to the advent of retailers such Carphone Warehouse in the 1990s.

“There are a lot of similarities between the two markets,” he told The Grocer. “They are both hi-tech gadgets - the device is like the phone while the liquids are like airtime.”

Merchandising was one of the biggest barriers to growth facing major retailers, Hardy added. “We are seeing stunning growth in independents in particular, but there is currently only a limited amount of space being given over to the category. ”

As e-cigarettes were an assisted sale, “retailers risked becoming landlocked in terms of space,” particularly once the tobacco display ban became fully operational in April 2015, Hardy warned. “The category is changing so quickly right now. There is an astonishing pace of change in needs in a very short period of time. Retailers don’t want to see a repeat of the Carphone Warehouse scenario.”

The market was also changing dramatically in terms of consumer tastes, Hardy suggested. One of the biggest trends was the growth of rechargeable modular devices with refillable liquids, in contrast to the disposable, cigarette-like products that drove much early category growth.Consumers experienced too much inconsistency with the performance of disposable products, Hardy said.

As a result, BAT is overhauling its Vype brand, replacing Vype disposable e-cigs with a new rechargeable product offering constant in-pack charging.

Rolling out from 11 August, a Vype eStick start kit will cost £19.99. Nicoventures will also sell Vype eStick tips (refill cartridges) in three flavours - blended tobacco, dark cherry and crisp mint.

Nicoventures is also planning a rollout of a more modular vaping device in October.

Latest industry estimates suggest about two million people in the UK have used e-cigs, but scientists remains divided over their safety and Health benefits.

This week, researchers compiling a report for the journal Addiction concluded e-cigarettes were likely to be much less harmful than conventional tobacco products and should therefore face less stringent regulations, but admitted the long-term effects were still unknown.