Cigar sales are expected to set the tobacco category on fire this Christmas so be prepared for the annual rush

The year 2007 will be for ever viewed as a hugely significant one for the UK tobacco market. Restrictions on smoking in public places, the rise in the minimum legal age to purchase tobacco, and the news that pictorial health warnings are soon to appear on packs of all tobacco products are just some of the issues that manufacturers and retailers have had to contend with.
However, despite this legislative snowball, retailers still have a host of reasons to be merry this Christmas. Cigarette sales are expected to be high thanks to the flood of new product launches and exciting consumer promotions which have taken place in the run up to the all-important trading period.
Philip Morris has just extended its premium portfolio with the UK launch of Marlboro Silver, while Gallaher launched a limited-edition pack for its mid-price Mayfair range of cigarettes in September.
However, the brightest stars of the Christmas tobacco market are set to be cigars. Christmas is a key time for cigar sales with 25% of annual cigar volume delivered in November and December alone.
Imperial Tobacco UK trade communications manager Iain Watkins says: "Cigars traditionally perform well at this time of year as many leading brands such as Classic and Panama are purchased as presents for adult smokers, and also significant numbers of adult cigar smokers trade up to brands such as Castella Panatellas as a special treat during the festive season."
Recent consumer trends have seen a move away from large cigars towards miniatures. At 47.2%, the category currently accounts for almost half of cigar sales by volume, and continues to perform admirably, with massive growth from Hamlet Miniatures Aromatic, Hamlet Smooth Miniatures and Castella Miniatures, and the recently re-branded top-seller Café Crème Blue continues its reign.
Large whiff cigars account for 47.1% of the market (AC Nielsen August 2007) and Gallaher head of communications Jeremy Blackburn advises retailers to stock up on selection packs of both large whiff and miniature cigars. "That way, retailers can ensure that they provide their customers with a variety of cigars, without having to spend a significant amount of cash on a large amount of stock for their shop," he says.

Happy returns
Last year's Hamlet Happiness on-pack promotion offered retailers the chance to share a £20,000 prize fund when they purchased a Hamlet variety or selection pack - a fact which lead to the brand taking a 44.1% share of the total cigar market. And this year promises more of the same as Gallaher recently launched its 2007 seasonal Hamlet trade promotion, which it promises will be the biggest and best ever.
The scheme will give independent retailers the chance to win a share of £40,000-worth of Sony electrical equipment.
Gallaher also recently launched its Gold Fever campaign in support of Benson & Hedges Gold. It has produced five Lucky Golden Tickets and will place them in outers of 20s.
Any independent retailer who finds one can win a gold bar or £10,000 in cold, hard cash.