Less than 18 months before a tobacco display ban is introduced in small stores, retailers are learning that they will not be able to count on manufacturers to provide the necessary modifications.
Imperial Tobacco and JTI have asked a number of small stores to terminate their gantry agreements and take on responsibility for making the alterations themselves.
Norfolk retailer Nigel Dowdney was given two options by JTI: terminate his agreement and have the gantry signed over to him, or JTI would remove it.
Retailers with Imperial Tobacco gantries have told C-Store they have been asked to make a similar decision. A spokesman for the firm said it was decommissioning only “where the Condition of Supply had already reached its expiry, and the tobacco unit was over five years old”.
Convenience Store understands that JTI will be funding alterations to some small stores by 2015, with decisions being based on turnover and the range of tobacco carried.
While neither JTI nor Imperial Tobacco ever publicly committed to foot the bill for changes to all gantries, both manufacturers are known to have funded the majority of alterations to large stores when display bans were enforced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year.
The Association of Convenience Stores, which has always been sceptical about the manufacturers’ support, estimates the changes will cost about £1,840 a store. “We regret that we have been proved right in this,” said public affairs director Shane Brennan.
Nigel said it was “totally unethical” for JTI to withdraw its support of small stores after so many had supported it in its campaigning.
“To become selective over which of the smaller stores it will support is unreasonable, especially as it is the smaller stores which are going to find it hardest to fund changes themselves,” he added.
JTI head of communications Jeremy Blackburn said the “relentless layering of regulation” had forced it to “redefine” the way it decided the levels of support retailers received.
“When you consider the scale of the impact the UK wide display ban will bring across thousands of small independent convenience stores, we believe that now is the best time to start this process in order to give independent retailers the maximum time to prepare,” he added.
“We will continue to invest in our brands in order to maximise the potential return as we recognise the value of tobacco in your business as a footfall driver and key revenue stream.”
“It feels as though Imperial has just washed its hands of small stores. How can it do that and still expect us to support it?”
Pravin Patel, Premier Food & Booze, Bolton
“This is a damning indictment of how manufacturers are more concerned with their bottom lines than helping the small stores industry.”
Scott Preston, Tagon Stores, Shetland