Me and My Brand: Efe Abebe-Heywood of Juul Labs UK

With recent sales figures showing that it is the JUUL in the crown of vaping, Efe Abebe-Heywood, Director, Brand Marketing & Communications, tells Asian Trader what makes Juul Labs UK the category leader in ‘closed pods’ and how the company wants to make cigarette smoking a thing of the past.

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Efe Abebe-Heywood

Can you please give an overview of your brand?

JUUL is an Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS) designed and intended to be an alternative to combustible cigarettes for adult smokers. It consists of a handheld electronic device and pods that are pre-filled with a nicotine-containing e-liquid, also known as a closed pod system. Originally founded in the US, we launched in the UK in 2018 and have grown to become the UK’s number one vape brand, now available across a wide range of retail channels. We sell a range of ‘JUULpods’ refills available in Tobacco, Menthol, Mango, Mint and Berry flavours, all designed to appeal to adult palettes. As a corporate entity, Juul Labs’ mission is to transition the world’s billion adult smokers away from combustible cigarettes, eliminate their use, and combat underage usage of our products. We believe that vapour products can offer adult smokers an alternative to combustible cigarettes and, in so doing, potentially reduce the harm associated with tobacco.

How is your brand currently performing?

Figures from IRI show that JUUL sales in symbols and independents have grown by 134% in value and 124% in volume compared to the previous year and the brand is now the number one vape brand (by value) in the UK. To give some perspective, the same figures show that the vape category in symbols and independents grew by 42% and 35% respectively so JUUL is not only the category leader, but continues to grow at three times that of the category. In addition, the latest data from IRI shows that five of the top six selling closed system products sold in symbols and independents are JUUL products with Mint, Menthol and Berry JUULpods occupying the top three spots.

How is the closed pod market currently performing?

Closed systems is now the leading sector in the total vape category having overtaken open systems in sales value in the latter half of last year. However, some independents may still be missing out by overfocusing on areas other than closed systems, which continue to increase their share of sales in Symbols and Independents and now account for 34.5% of sales.

Do you have any new product development?

We launched two new JUULpods flavours last year. Our Menthol JUULpods were launched to offer adult smokers, particularly those who preferred mentholated cigarettes, a wider range of alternatives; and our Rich Tobacco JUULpods provided a more familiar flavour profile to that of Virginia tobacco, which is the blend used in nine out of every ten cigarettes sold in the UK. Both of these products have performed well since launch, with Menthol JUULpods the best selling new e-cigarette product launched in 2020 and Rich Tobacco ranked  fourth in terms of value sales.

How are you supporting your brand and NPD?

Advertising restrictions limit the amount of marketing channels that vaping companies can use to promote products. We also do not want anyone under the age of 18 to have access or visibility of our products outside of JUUL approved retail environments and targeted communications channels. We therefore generally invest in direct to consumer engagement, as well as providing JUUL stockists with advice, point of sale materials and training to help educate and encourage adult smokers to move away from cigarettes. All JUUL stockists must adhere to our Challenge 25 policy, mandating that retailers ask buyers who appear under 25 years for proof of ID to show they are over 18, and agree for their retail premises to be mystery shopped. Combating underage use is as equally important to us as promoting the category – and our products – to help transition adult smokers away from tobacco.

How important are independent retailers to your brand?

We believe that adult smokers should have access to potentially less harmful alternatives in the places where they purchase their cigarettes. It’s estimated that independent retailers are responsible for around 40% of all tobacco sales in the UK, so to be available in these stores is not only critical to the brand’s success, but also to our mission to transition smokers and eliminate cigarette use. It’s often forgotten that independent retailers were the first to embrace e-cigarettes before the multiples, specialist vape stores and online retailers. We would like to see independents’ share of the vaping market get closer to parity with their tobacco share of around 40% – currently it stands at around 30%. Working together, we have an historic opportunity to end the era of combustible cigarettes which are responsible for one UK death every six minutes.