Vaping has been a hard market to corner for the supermarkets. The £184m value quoted in this report, which includes sales through mutiples, convenience stores and independents, is estimated to only be 20%-25% of the total vaping market. For the bulk of sales come from specialist stores and online.

But with the arrival of new technology, the mults are starting to fight back. Sales are up 12% in value on volumes up 23.6%. According to Nielsen commercial executive Paul Lecomte, one of the key recent trends has been the shift towards pod mod systems, such as the US brand Juul (see below), which has dominated its home market and launched in the UK in the summer.

“The technological improvements of the devices have been the reason why shoppers would start with a cig-alike and then move on to an open device,” explains Lecomte. Consumers are more likely to head to a specialist for an open device, whereas pod mods are easier for supermarkets and convenience stores to sell as they don’t require the same level of expertise from staff.

Lecomte says the current star-performing pod mod is My Blu from Imperial Tobacco, which also launched this summer and has already captured 0.4% share of retail vaping sales.

Andrew Miller, head of NGP sales at Blu, suggests there is a lot more growth to come from pod mods.

“If we look to the USA, the biggest vaping market, pod systems are a key growth category, highlighting opportunities for growth here in the UK,” he says. “Pod mods offer vapers and smokers a much simpler format to use and an easier experience in the transition from smoking to vaping.”

Miller also suggests the marketing support pods have been receiving lately has made consumers more aware of these innovations, and more curious to try them.

There are, however, still barriers to all retailers enjoying the benefits of this growing category. Some brand owners are being cautious over distribution to ensure retailers can provide both the requisite product knowledge and guarantee the product won’t fall into the hands of under-18s. There are also some retailers holding back because they don’t fully understand the category.

One such retailer is CTN specialist James Convenience Retail. Owner Jonathan James admits vaping is a category that it “does not know particularly well”. However, he knows it is an area in which he needs to improve. As such, he is teaming up with leading supplier Liberty Flights to manage the category across his estate.

Let the pod mod revolution begin.



Juul, Juul

Having taken the US by storm since launching two years ago, controversial vaping brand Juul made its hotly anticipated UK debut in the summer. On launch it was only available via its own age-controlled website, specialist vape shops and Selfridges, but Juul was given a major boost in November, when it secured listings in all 1,400 Sainsbury’s outlets. Whether it can replicate its US success here remains to be seen – but it’s certainly causing a stir and wider listings are sure to follow soon.