Rising sales are boosting retailer optimism across the category, but regulatory hurdles loom.
Tobacco sales have proved a bright spot for many convenience stores during the COVID-19 pandemic, but while c-stores anticipate robust tobacco sales for the remainder of 2020, retailers are bracing for the potential chill of regulatory headwinds.
As the pandemic first hit the U.S., many customers began hoarding tobacco products — particularly cartons of cigarettes — ahead of shelter-in-place rules, according to data from the InfoMetrics database managed by consulting services firm Management Science Associates (MSA).
“As the stay-at-home situation has continued, there has been increased consumption of all types of tobacco items with the exception of vape, possibly because consumers are at home and not in locations where there are restrictions on its use,” said Don Burke, senior vice president of MSA.
A poll by consumer intelligence research platform CivicScience found that from April 28 to May 11 — at a time when most areas of the country were still experiencing stay-at-home orders — 31% of cigarette users reported smoking more frequently, and 28% of e-cigarette/vape users reported vaping more frequently. Some 44% of cigarette smokers and 34% of smokeless, e-cig and cigar users reported buying their tobacco product at a c-store most often during the same period.
Research fi rm IRI’s Convenience All Scan data found smokeless tobacco dollar sales grew 7.8%, with spitless up a whopping 80.6% for the four weeks ending April 19, 2020. Tobacco accessories dollar sales were up 33%, and cigars climbed 13.1%, while cigarettes dropped 2.4%, and e-cigs dipped 1.1% for the same period. Nielsen data showed e-cigs down 8.5% and cigarettes down 5% for the four weeks ending April 25, 2020, but similar upticks in other tobacco products, with cigars up 11.3%, pipe tobacco up 14.1% and “shag” or rolling tobacco up 28%.