Me and My Brand: Alastair Williams on STG’s Signature range

Scandinavian Tobacco Group’s Country Director Alastair Williams has overseen the rebranding of Café Crème small cigars into the new and best-selling Signature range. He tells about the transformation and explains how the market has been performing under lockdown.

Alastair Williams

Can you please give an overview of your brand?

Originally launched back in 1963 under the Café Crème name as the world’s first small cigar, today Signature is one of the leading global tobacco brands enjoyed by adult smokers. Towards the end of 2018 we began to implement a name change and started a European-wide transition over from Café Crème to Signature, following some very thorough and positive consumer testing. Today we consider Signature as the jewel in our crown, as it is by far the best-selling cigar brand in the UK and usually the first cigar brand on any retailers’ tobacco gantry. 

How is your brand currently performing?

Very well, and I think there are a number of reasons for that, but the most important one is because it’s bang on trend, offering time-poor adult smokers a high quality, smooth and aromatic smoke. The Signature range currently accounts for well over one third of all cigars sold in the UK, led by Signature Blue, which is the UK’s favourite cigar, with a 22% volume share.This is closely followed by Signature Original and Signature Filter Red, which, when combined as one brand portfolio, is worth nearly £55m in annual sales. 

How is the tobacco products market currently performing?

It’s obviously been a pretty challenging year for everyone so far, but Convenience retailers in particular have been working unbelievably hard since the outbreak of coronavirus, not least having to be agile and adapt to some differing purchasing habits from consumers during these difficult times. When it comes to Tobacco, I’m pleased to say that, overall, the category has proved to be pretty resilient so far. There’s been some changes in shopping habits, with many consumers having preferred to visit their local convenience store rather than the larger format supermarket and it is no surprise that this has been reflected accordingly in sales data. Earlier on in the pandemic we also saw some stockpiling or panic buying from consumers and this translated into cigars sales too. 

Do you have any new product development?

It seems like a long time ago now, but at the beginning of the year we introduced a new product to the Signature range, which we are confident will prove a very welcome addition to the UK’s biggest cigar brand portfolio. Launched back in February, the new arrival to join the Signature brand family is a filter cigarillo coming in a convenient and stylish pack of ten, with a low out of pocket price of just £4.95. The key product feature is that it has an acetate filter containing a peppermint capsule under a lasered marker. In addition, a carefully selected blend of Virginia tobacco and a light real leaf Ecuadorian wrapper deliver a smooth taste, and all for the low out of pocket price of £4.95. The pack has been designed with a premium feel and detail that stands out,with the intention of appealing to existing adult smokers who are looking for a smooth smoking experience. 

How are you supporting your brand & NPD?

First and foremost, by using key trade press titles like Asian Trader as they are a great platform for manufacturers and suppliers like ourselves to share knowledge, but also for retailers to showcase what’s worked well for them. We also do regular depot days in wholesaler and cash & carries, where we engage directly with retailers who are shopping for tobacco and give them the most up to date picture to help aid and inform their purchase decisions. 

How important are independent retailers to your brand?

Extremely important! A significant part of our sales go through independent retailers and I think it is fair to say that Signature would not enjoy the success it has done without them.Hopefully retailers will also feel that Signature is a fairly important brand for them too, as it will be a good driver of footfall into their stores and the associated basket spend that comes with it, as well as offering a very attractive profit margin, which is typically three times that of cigarettes.

What trends are occurring in the sector?

Whilst most of the usual key cigar trends such as ‘value for money’ and ‘the rise of miniatures’ have remained, we’ve recently seen some interesting new ones too. Probably because people have been at home more, coupled with some nice weather from April onwards, we have seen sales of our larger format cigars being particularly positive. In fact, sales out from our warehouse of our Henri Wintermans Half Corona were up 40% in June, compared to the same time last year. Thankfully, it seems like miniature cigars sales have not suffered as a direct consequence, with brands like Signature and Moments continuing to perform very well. 

Describe your brand in three words

Smooth, premium, miniature.