Source: Unsplash

This was supposed to be a disruptive year for tobacco. After all, it’s reeling from the double whammy of the rise of vaping and the introduction of track & trace legislation.

In the end, 2019 wasn’t quite the bloodbath the sector was expecting. Firstly, vape producers were forced to fight their own battles. Secondly, while track & trace caused a few headaches in the supply chain, sales were not directly hit – and there was anecdotal evidence that the new rules were beginning to curb the illicit tobacco trade.

Indeed, the category’s performance was in keeping with the long-term trend driven by falling numbers of smokers. Value fell 1.3% in grocery as volume sales tumbled 8.8%.

Nevertheless, at £14,570.9m, the market remains enormous. “The truth is that traditional tobacco is still the largest fmcg category,” says JTI UK head of sales Ross Hennessy. “It remains a crucial category for UK retailers, as a major footfall driver and with a profit potential that should not be discounted.”

As far as trends in the category go, the picture remains relatively unchanged from recent years. As increased taxation continues to push up prices on a yearly basis, the majority of smokers are looking for the best value – whether that means trading down to the lowest priced cigarettes or switching to roll your own.

The impact of this behaviour is a hard squeeze on mid-tier cigarette brands, warns Filco Foods MD Matthew Hunt. “Premium smokers are loyal, with brands like Marlboro and Silk Cut holding up,” he explains. “The middle ground is the one which has been decimated with down-trading to cheaper brands regularly visible.”

Marlboro Gold was by far the best performing premium brand this year, with value sales down just 3.4% to £506.6m. Value brand Benson & Hedges’ King Size Blue enjoyed the biggest value growth, adding £184.3m to be worth £704.6m.

Meanwhile, rolling tobacco this year grew by 6.7% in value and 0.4% by volume. JTI’s Amber Leaf dominated the sector with sales up 3.8% to £909.7m, while the supplier’s Sterling brand was fastest-growing, shooting up 74.3% to £236.7m.


The Top Products

In association with nielsen

Top 10 Cigarettes      
        £m change (£m) change (%)
      Total Category: 11662.9 -158.0 -1.3
Total volume change: -8.80%   Total Own Label: - - -
This year’s rank Last year’s rank Brand Manufacturer £m change (£m) change (%)
1 1 Benson & Hedges JTI 1834.7 234.7 14.7
2 2 Players Imperial Brands 1610.1 124.5 8.4
3 3 Sterling JTI 1375.8 2.6 0.2
4 4 Lambert & Butler Imperial Brands 1133.8 24.1 2.2
5 5 Marlboro Philip Morris 741.0 -7.1 -1.0
6 7 Sovereign JTI 640.7 33.1 5.5
7 9 Rothmans BAT 555.7 -9.9 -1.7
8 6 Mayfair JTI 533.8 -120.1 -18.4
9 8 Carlton Imperial Brands 500.3 -68.2 -12.0
10 10 JPS Imperial Brands 458.0 -93.0 -16.9


Top 10 Rolling tobacco     
        £m change (£m) change (%)
      Total Category: 2908.0 181.8 6.7
Total volume change: 0.40%   Total Own Label: - - -
This year’s rank Last year’s rank Brand Manufacturer £m change (£m) change (%)
1 1 Amber Leaf Original JTI 909.7 33.2 3.8
2 2 Golden Virginia The Original Imperial Brands 431.0 -20.5 -4.5
3 3 Gold Leaf Quality Blend Imperial Brands 422.2 24.6 6.2
4 6 Sterling JTI 236.7 100.9 74.3
5 5 Golden Virginia Yellow Imperial Brands 171.1 -2.7 -1.6
6 4 Cutters Choice Original BAT 159.6 -24.8 -13.5
7 7 Cutters Choice Extra Fine BAT 105.9 29.6 38.7
8 8 Amber Leaf Original 3 In 1 JTI 68.2 12.8 23.1
9 9 Pall Mall Fine Cut BAT 53.5 0.0 0.0
10 11 Holborn Yellow JTI 45.1 1.3 2.9

The Grocer’s Top Launch

Nordic spirit

Nordic Spirit by JTI

OK, so this isn’t actually a tobacco product. Due to plain packaging rules and the display ban, there has been a dearth of innovation in tobacco. So JTI is looking instead to a completely new category with Nordic Spirit tobacco-free nicotine pouches. Made from “a blend of plant-based fibres, nicotine, additives and flavourings commonly used in the food industry”, they’re designed to be kept under the user’s lip, moulding to the gum and delivering nicotine for up to an hour.

The Grocer’s Top Products 2019: Brand on the run?