Tobacco accessories are soaring amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dollar sales grew 4.3% for smoking accessories, with unit sales up 2.4% for the latest 52 weeks ending April 19, 2020, according to market research firm IRI’s Total U.S. Convenience data. And in the latest four weeks ending April 19, 2020, dollar sales climbed a massive 33.6%, with unit sales close behind at 29.2%.
That’s a clear upward trend, with a huge bump in March and April, likely due to consumers stocking up ahead of shelter-in-place rules during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While total store trips are down 4%, according to the IRI CPG Demand Index, published April 27, 2020, basket size is up 22%, even after the panic shopping peak of mid-March.
In addition to stocking up on food and other essential items like toilet paper, a OnePoll survey commissioned by crowdsourced shopping platform Slickdeals found that the rate of impulse spending was up by 18% in April.
Mike Jones, director of marketing & food service for Indiana-based Good Oil Co., which operates 15 Good to Go stores in Indiana and one in Illinois, has seen this trend at his stores, alongside an overall “change or alter in typical buying patterns and habits.”
“Despite our customer count being down, we still were seeing some good traffic on the tobacco and tobacco accessories categories,” he said. “There are certain items that people are afraid they will run out of or not have access to.”
Wisconsin-based Kwik Trip, with more than 600 locations, has “seen an increase in lighters,” which Category Manager Kim Jenks also attributes to customers stocking up during the pandemic.
“That usually goes hand in hand with the trend for cigarettes, which are up as well,” she said.
Matt Burton, associate category manager for Whitehouse, N.J.-based QuickChek, which operates 160 c-stores, has another theory for the
increases they’ve seen.
“Cigarette consumption levels are likely to remain strong during this time as consumers in quarantine may be experiencing other factors of stress,” he said. “We are seeing a higher demand of lighter purchases with pack and carton sales.”
Trends to Watch
Pandemic aside, accessories are poised for additional growth as cannabis becomes legalized in additional states and cannabidiol (CBD) use increases.
“I believe accessory sales will see a trend to the upside as marijuana becomes legalized, especially with the current landscape of the e-cig industry,” said QuickChek Senior Category Manager James McElroy.
For now, this will depend on the state. Cannabis is fully legal for adult use in just 11 states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington — and Washington, D.C. But the number will continue to grow as support for legalization picks up steam among young voters especially.
But Jones is skeptical about the timeline in Indiana, where Good to Go is based. Currently, the state has some of the strictest cannabis laws in the nation, with cannabis fully banned and criminalized and CBD oil allowed for medical use only.
“I don’t know if, and certainly don’t believe that, in Indiana, legalization of marijuana is coming anytime soon,” said Jones.
But he does see this as the natural progression down the line, though he adds that a potential increase in accessories sales would also depend on the type of cannabis products offered.
“There’s a lot to be said about marijuana or cannabis in general because obviously smoking is not the only form of taking it,” Jones said. “That may drive things just in terms of which direction we’ll gravitate — more toward the edibles and other variations other than just the typical smoking.”
As it stands, lighters are the top tobacco accessory at Good to Go. And Jones doesn’t expect this to change anytime soon.
“There’s really not a lot new out there, for us at least,” he said. “Lighters are the No 1. There are the individual cartridges and things like that, but typically, (the top seller) is going to be lighters.”
Lighters are the top seller at QuickChek as well.
Much like the convenience industry as a whole, Burton said they’re “proving to be resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic.”