Travis Hanke, category manager for the Utah chain, has been busy this year assessing new category offerings.
By David Bennett, Senior Editor
So far this year, the e-tobacco segment—including e-cigarettes—is experiencing a progression of new product and new integration. For example, JUUL by PAX Labs is seeing tremendous sales with pods filled with e-juice and is easy to use. Plus, RJ Reynolds (Vuse) and Altria are both heavily invested in e-cigarette lines.
This past February, blu celebrated the launch of myblu with its most expansive flavor range yet—with pre-filled liquid pods featuring 11 flavors.
Travis Hanke manages the cigarette, tobacco and general merchandise categories for the Salt Lake City, Utah-based Maverik c-store chain. Hanke met with CSD to explain how the vapor segment is booming in Maverik’s 312 stores.
Convenience Store Decisions (CSD): How is the vape category performing for Maverik so far in 2018?
Travis Hanke (TH): The vape category continues to perform very well for Maverik. Year-to-date Maverik’s unit sales are up 14% and sales dollars are up 20%. This year, Maverik has transitioned away from the open system to focus vape efforts on closed system product offerings on the market.
CSD: New technology and new offerings are generating new consumer interest, including improvements in NuMark’s MarkTen product line. What’s your take on NuMark’s new plans for its portfolio?
TH: NuMark has a lot of innovation planned in the vape category with closed pod systems and a closed tank system. NuMark has invested a lot of resources in these products and their development. I’m excited about the potential and sustainability of these new products.
Based on innovation and trends in the vape category it’s possible the traditional cigarette merchandising space on the back bar will continue to shrink in order to expand the vape merchandising space. Such an evolution is likely needed to effectively provide consumers the sufficient product variety they’re looking for in the vape category.
CSD: How about the new myblu offering?
TH: ITG Brands’ myblu pod system is intriguing. It launched in February and early results have been promising.
CSD: Some industry experts say that JUUL is far and away the easiest vape pen starter kit to use on the market—hence its rousing sales in the c-store channel. How is JUUL performing for Maverik?
TH: JUUL’s national success has been unprecedented in a relatively young vape category. This unprecedented success has created some supply chain opportunities, which Juul has been working very hard to address. Maverik is partnering with the JUUL team to launch JUUL later this month. Maverik is very excited to have the JUUL brand added to the vape offering for our customers.
CSD: Are there any e-tobacco name brands that are generating high interest from Maverik consumers?
TH: ITG Brand’s myblu, Space Jam’s Byrd and NJOY are three brands generating the most interest. The Logic and Mistic brands are also on the radar. Both brands have been significant performers on the East Coast; however they’re starting to get noticeable traction in the Central and West Regions.
CSD: Vape offerings, including e-cigarettes, have attracted significant scrutiny from local legislators. Have your markets been touched by tobacco legislation pertaining to vape items?
TH: To some degree, yes, specifically with labeling requirements. Maverik’s internal legal and compliance team combined with Maverik’s vendor partner resources have done an excellent job keeping Maverik informed and compliant with evolving regulations. Maverik is committed to being a responsible retailer and complying with all local, state and federal regulations.
CSD: R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co. this past April voluntarily initiated a nationwide safety recall of all Vuse Vibe power units over concern over batteries. Do such singular occurrences tend to affect consumer confidence?
TH: I don’t think consumer confidence with the closed systems has been negatively impacted by the recall. Consumer demand for the vape products continue to grow. Maverik and our vendor partners continue to evolve to provide the consumers the products they want. There’s been a disruption with the Vuse Vibe brand with the recall, however R.J. Reynolds and other manufacturers have responded to the recall opportunity with increased promotional activity in the vape category. They are excellent partners.