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What’s Wrong With Cigalikes & Vapor?

NEW YORK —Ask convenience retailers what they think about electronic cigarettes and vaping, and it sounds like vaudeville Yiddish theater.

Eh, not so good. Nothing to tell. Not making money.

Exaggeration? Only slightly.

Our quarterly CSP-RBC Capital Markets tobacco survey produced the following quotes from retailers when asked about the performance of e-cigs:

  • “Fad is quickly disappearing.”
  • “Excessive discounting.”
  • “No established leader.”
  • “Only sell 1 brand and not worth it.”

We know that the cigalikes arena has slumped over the past 18 months as vaping has caught fire, especially in ascendant vape-shop sector. But interestingly, with more than two-thirds of respondents carrying open-systems, most say vaping too is struggling.

Asked if vaping was “booming,” “slowing down” or “never got started,” only 10% said it was booming, while 40% said slowing down and 50% saying it never got started.

“We believe vaping is suffering from the same fate as cigalikes,” said Nik Modi, tobacco analyst at RBC Capital Markets. “While there might be more vape and longer lasting batteries, the product fails to deliver the nicotine satiety that consumers find in cigarettes. Until the e-cig/vape industry can find a way to make nicotine absorption equal to that of a traditional cigarette, the category is unlikely to be as disruptive as once thought.”

Some Hope?

While the overall tone toward vaping and cigalikes was sullen, some electronic cigarette brands did garner favorable reviews, notably Logic, which was acquired in the spring by Japan Tobacco, and R.J. Reynold’s Vuse line.

“Somehow Logic captured the marketplace in the Northeast,” an East Coast operator said.

A New England retailer agreed, citing favorable “support the company gives retailers.”

Vuse supporters praised the brand’s marketing, with one operator offering the following compliment: “couponing got them immediate trial, and superior technology has kept them on top.”

As to how operators envision their vaping section in the coming months?

Highlighting their ambivalence are the following quotes:

  • “Getting away from vapor products,” said a West Coast player.
  • “How to grow e-cig sales,” hoped a southeastern merchant.
  • And perhaps summing up the channel’s uncertainty, a Midwestern operator wondered, “Where is the e-cig business going to go?”
Mitch Morrison


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