Me and My Brand: David Robins of Imperial Tobacco

Smokers are increasingly demanding better value without compromising on taste. David Robins, Head of Insights & Intelligence at Imperial Tobacco, reveals how the company is responding to this trend, with new products such as its Signature range bridging the divide between price and quality.

David Robins

Can you please give an overview of your brand? 

The Embassy range is one of our most iconic tobacco brands and continues to be an intrinsic part of Imperial Tobacco’s heritage. In November this year, Imperial Tobacco announced some exciting innovations to the Embassy brand in the form of the new Signature range, that is designed boost sales amongst shoppers. The new Signature range continues to offer premium factory-made cigarettes (FMC), using the finest Virginia tobaccos, as consumers have come to expect, but without the premium price tag. We believe the new range should unlock increased sales and profit margins for retailers.

The new Embassy Signature range features both Gold and Silver variants, which will be available to buy with an MRRP of just £9.50 per pack of 20s. Embassy Signature Gold is also available in packs of 100 at an MRRP of £47.50. Embassy Signature Silver also benefits from the addition of special Reduced Smoke Smell (RSS) paper, designed to reduce the linger of smoke smell on clothes or fingers.

How is your brand currently performing? 

The Embassy brand has enjoyed continuous growth over the last 12 months and with the sub economy sector worth almost 60 per cent of the total FMC market, we’re confident the launch of our new Signature range will drive further sales momentum in the months to come.

How is the tobacco market currently performing? 

The tobacco market remains heavily price-driven and this has led to an uplift in consumers switching into Roll Your Own (RYO), as well as value factory-made cigarettes (FMC). We’re also seeing a rise in dual users buying both RYO and FMC for different occasions, as more shoppers move to a nicotine portfolio approach. In fact, figures show a quarter of consumers are now dual smokers. Retailers must be well-equipped with a strong product range across all categories in order to cater for this trend and keep one eye on their sales so they can adapt their range to meet the needs of their customers.

While value is driving the purchasing agenda for adult smokers, many don’t wish to compromise on quality. Through our new Embassy Signature range, we have addressed this by creating a superior modern tobacco blend that uses our finest materials to give the best smoking experiences for consumers looking for exceptional quality but at a decent price point.

Do you have any new product development? 

The primary focus for us is on supporting our retailers through a pipeline of innovation that will help them cater for their customers and grow their sales. We can’t reveal any further details at present. However, we’d encourage retailers to watch this space for further product announcements that will help enhance their product offering and increase their sales.

How are you supporting your brand & NPD? 

The launch of Embassy Signature will be supported through direct customer engagement via our sales force, plus trade media support.

How important are independent retailers to your brand? 

As with all our products, independent retailers are a hugely important route to market for the Embassy brand, representing a significant proportion of our sales. As such, we continuously invest in supporting retailers so that they can make the most out of our products with sales and trends advice, promotions, store visits and in-store furniture.

What trends are occurring in the sector? 

While we’re seeing a growing trend towards RYO, factory-made cigarettes still account for the majority of tobacco sales, with a 55 per cent share of the market, and are experiencing volume growth of 4 per cent YOY.  As in the wider category, interest in value for money remains a leading trend, with many consumers seeking products that offer the lowest out-of-pocket spend.

As a result of this continuing shift into RYO, the segment has expanded its market share and now accounts for 45 per cent of tobacco sales, with recent data showing volume sales are growing by an impressive 30 per cent as consumers seek out greater value for money.

In line with this growing demand for value, sales in the Economy RYO segment are also rising and Imperial is well positioned to help retailers tap into this trend, with more brands in the economy segment than any other tobacco manufacturer. Since its launch in November 2019, Lambert & Butler RYO has been growing its share and, in July 2020, it accounted for 4.7 per cent of all sales within the Economy RYO segment, making it a must-stock product line for retailers.

Describe your brand in three words…

Premium, affordable, iconic.

Market data from ITUK Internal Estimates