Roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco sales lit up in the midst of the COVID-19 sheltering, with c-store sales jumping 17.9% the four weeks ending in mid-April compared to the same period last year, and rebounding from a drop off of 3.1% for the preceding year, according to IRI Convenience All Scan data.
Elaine Annis, retail operations coordinator at Richmond Master Distributors, which owns 55 Low Bob’s tobacco stores in Indiana, can attest to that growth. Her stores have recently seen double-digit growth in RYO. “It’s doing pretty good for us,” said Annis. “I don’t know if just with people being at home more right now, they have more time to (smoke).”
The long-term outlook for RYO is optimistic. 360 Market Updates’ “Global Roll-Your-Own-Tobacco Products Market 2020-2023” report found RYO is projected to yield a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.14% through 2023, in large part due to its steady consumer base, competitive pricing, as well as taste and diversity of offerings.
Low Bob’s serves a dedicated tobacco lover, carrying a variety of large 16-ounce bags as well as six-ounce bags, which are most common. In many stores, Low Bob’s boasts a 16-foot RYO display, Annis noted. All stores feature at least 12 feet devoted to RYO.
Most c-stores don’t have the space to carry that much stock, so tobacco category managers like Dandy Mini Marts’ Jessie Dix must be strategic about their RYO display.
“Some of the stores do carry the larger 16-ounce,” Dix said, “but it’s mostly just the six-ounce bags.”
Some Dandy stores have the demand to stock larger bags, and he’ll certainly match that with a stronger display.
RYO innovation, Annis said, is in the accessories. She sees strong activity lately with cones — the wide-mouthed, stuffable pre-rolled papers. Cone and tube makers tout papers that are vegan and GMO-free; made with fibers that are unbleached, chlorine- and dye-free, and responsibly harvested, among other traits.
“Vendors are increasingly offering innovative, eco-friendly products such as treeless cigarette rolling papers and filter tips due to the rising environmental concerns among consumers,” according to the 360 Market Updates RYO Report.
Annis said manufacturers have been active promotional partners. “We work with vendors, and they’ll either do a promotion on our loyalty program, or they’ll run a buydown on the product for a month or two,” she said.
That lets Low Bob’s pass the savings on to its RYO customers. It also keeps the RYO sales burning.