Martyn Fisher learns how Imperial will help wholesalers deal with the big changes in the market
How has Imperial helped wholesalers grow sales in the past 12 months?
We continue to work closely with wholesalers to ensure they offer a fully optimised range that maximises the availability of our tobacco and vaping portfolio. Additionally, we have sought to support the channel through our extensive sales force, enhanced profit on return offers on focus stock keeping units, plus enduring relationships at senior levels.
What is the greatest challenge the wholesale industry faces?
Undoubtedly the biggest challenge facing the channel is the implementation of EUTPD II’s ‘track and trace’ requirements. Tobacco manufacturers will be required to apply coding to all tobacco product packaging – including packs, outers, master cases and pallets – so it can be tracked from manufacturer to retailer. Our wholesale partners need to ensure they have their systems and staffing aligned to manage this successfully. We will be working closely with all customers to ensure they are fully aware of the legislation and the changes necessary to ensure compliance on 20 May next year.
What trends and opportunities are emerging that customers can take advantage of?
The biggest opportunity for our customers is vaping. We estimate that there are currently around three million vapers in the UK. However, this is forecast to grow exponentially in the future. The vape category is currently very fragmented and sales are split between traditional retail, dedicated vape stores and online.
We are keen to ensure wholesalers and independent retailers capitalise on this fantastic opportunity, principally via our new ‘pod mod’ device, My Blu. The device is compatible with Intense nicotine salt liquidpods and is designed to satisfy adult smokers who are looking to switch to vaping or have tried vaping in the past and not been fully convinced.
What challenges has Imperial had to overcome in the past year?
The unfortunate demise of Palmer & Harvey was a key issue, as it managed the supply chain for a number of our principal retailers. However, by quickly arranging new direct supply arrangements with most of the affected customers, we ensured any out-of-stocks were minimised.
What is Imperial’s greatest achievement in the past year?
The arrival of standardised packaging in May 2017 was achieved successfully, due in no small part to the fantastic relationships Imperial has built with our wholesale partners over the years. Jointly, we managed the process smoothly to ensure the continued availability of our products, during and after the transition period.
Are you planning any activity of which wholesalers should be aware?
We will continue to work closely with the wholesale channel to ensure both they and the independent retail trade remain competitive in relation to rival channels. In terms of specifics, as mentioned, wholesalers and independent retailers should look out for increased activity around our vape portfolio (and specifically, My Blu) in the coming months.
What advice would you give wholesalers looking to grow sales in this category?
Speak to your customers as often as you can – retailers will vote with their feet and shop elsewhere if they are unhappy.