Health action taking its toll on cigarettes

Health minister Dawn Primarolo must be feeling pretty pleased with herself. The smoking ban in public places, coupled with the increase in the legal age to buy tobacco products from 16 to 18 last October, means Brits are smoking 1.5 billion fewer cigarettes than last year. As a result, the tobacco market slipped 3.5% by volume and value was only marginally up at £10.286bn in the year to September.

However, the nation is still puffing 41.2 billion cigarettes a year and half the cigarette brands on our list recorded growth. Indeed, anecdotal evidence from tobacco manufacturers suggests that since the ban, smokers have simply been smoking one or two fewer cigarettes a day - not kicking the habit.

The runaway leader in the sector remains Lambert & Butler King Size, although its sales fell 0.2% to £1.383bn. It was one of nine Imperial Tobacco brands to make the list, seven of which saw sales fall past year.

Top Launch - Silk Cut Superslims (Gallaher) 
Health charities had laid into Gallaher even before it launched these super-slim cigarettes under its Silk Cut brand. The

perfume-style boxes are designed to appeal to female

smokers and were criticised by campaigners who claimed they were aimed at vulnerable young women who wanted to lose weight. Gallaher, however, insisted its target market was adult smokers in urban areas with style bars and clubs.
In contrast, of the nine Gallaher products to make the grade, six have grown sales in the past year, including Sterling Superkings and B&H King Size Silver, which notched up increases of 8.7% and 8.6% respectively. But Gallaher's B&H King Size Gold suffered one of the biggest decreases, down 6.9% and dropping from third to fourth on the list behind Marlboro King Size Gold.

The biggest trend in the sector has been the growth of value brands. At the end of October, Gallaher launched new price-marked packs for Sterling which it claimed moved the brand into the 'super value' sector, while in August Imperial Tobacco revamped the packaging across its Windsor Blue, Richmond King Size and Golden Virginia economy tobacco brands to give the products a more premium feel.

"Consumers are continuing to trade into cheaper brands," says Pete Newton, tobacco buyer for Booths. "Established brands have suffered as a result of the cheaper brands and since the end of the ability to advertise, there has been little innovation."

Innovation will be hit even harder when the Government's proposals to move tobacco products under the counter come into effect from 2011. And it will be the independents that are hardest hit, suggest experts.

"Banning tobacco display will have no positive effects for retailers," warns Jeremy Blackburn, head of communications at Gallaher. "As well as driving footfall, tobacco is worth more than confectionery, soft drinks and snacks combined. It can be up to 20% to 25% of a store's turnover."

View The Grocer's definitive Top Products 2008 survey