The convenience store industry must act now and become the champion of the UK’s vaping market, before the current window of opportunity slams shut and its competitive advantage is lost to other high-street players.

The warning, from British American Tobacco’s (BAT) head of next generation products Nigel Hardy, comes just weeks before one of the UK’s major multiples is expected to demonstrate its faith in the strength of the vaping market by moving products from out behind the counter and on to the shop floor.

The retailer, one of the big four, is planning to devote key healthcare aisle space to vaping products, a move which would make them instantly more accessible to adult shoppers.

Worth £1bn, the UK vaping category now has the same value as confectionery, and is just shy of the value of the energy drinks market, BAT said.

However, by 2025, it predicts that vaping will have more than doubled in value to be worth £2.7bn.

“Improvements to the way in which products are displayed in-store will play a key role in the category’s growth,” Hardy added.

“Retailers who aren’t already doing so, need make to make more of the category now in terms of display.

“The age of simple counter-top displays is over. Stores need to give over more high-profile space to vaping products and they need to do it now before it’s too late. It’s vital that the convenience store industry doesn’t get left out in this race for space.

“If convenience retailers don’t make the most of the category now, the danger is that the Carphone Warehouse of the vaping world will emerge on the highstreet and any competitive advantage that independents may have had in terms of establishing themselves as the trusted source of vaping expertise and products, will be lost,” Hardy said.

“The convenience industry doesn’t want to look back in five years-time and ask itself, how did we let that happen?” 

Dedicated back wall display units, shared display solutions with existing tobacco gantries, or even shop floor displays would help retailers to maximise category sales, along with “proper signposting, navigation, and staff training,” he added.

As UK tobacco sales continue to decline, BAT said it aimed to “lead the evolution of the next generation products (NGP) market”.

The company, which launched the new Vype ePen 3 earlier this year, now employs 430 people in the UK, 90% of whom are working on NGP in some way.

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