For years, the most innovative development to hit the subcategory of tobacco accessories was lighter covers highlighting sports teams or colorful designs. There were even the occasional movie- or TV-based themes to attract mega fans. So when BIC introduced the EZ Reach lighter with an extended wand last summer, surely convenience store operators and managers hoped it would give the after-market segment a flick of energy.
While it’s difficult to discern how much impact one new design could have on a legacy segment, tobacco accessories enjoyed substantial gains last year after logging losses in 2019. IRI recorded a 22.4% increase in dollar sales for all smoking accessories in convenience stores for the calendar year ending Dec. 27, 2020. The market research firm also noted a nearly 16% increase in unit sales.
The real driver behind the gains most likely can be attributed to both COVID-19 lockdowns and a growing number of states legalizing adult use of recreational cannabis. COVID-19 conditions meant smokers spent more time at home instead of public spaces, so they could indulge with fewer restrictions. Analysts suspect the steadying of cigarette sales correlates with more people enjoying the freedom of smoking at home, which consequently pushed the demand for lighters and other accessories.
Market research firm Fact.MR also shows a higher global demand for herb alternatives instead of tobacco, and that usage prompts more purchases of waterpipes, grinders, vaporizers and rolling papers. Recreational cannabis is now legal in 11 states and Washington, D.C. — New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota voters approved ballot measures in 2020 — and Euromonitor International estimates more than 360% growth of the sector by 2025, totaling more than $53 billion in sales.
“Lighters have been on an uptick for us, but that might be partly for the legalization of recreational marijuana. People still buy roll-your-own tobacco and use rolling papers for recreational cannabis,” said Anna Bettencourt, senior category manager at VERC Enterprises. Based in Duxbury, Mass., the c-store chain owns 34 stores and two standalone car washes.
Although the cannabis business is heavily regulated and product sales fall outside the parameters of most c-stores, selling accessories operates under much less oversight, which could invite more chances to engage that customer base.
“There’s a big opportunity for convenience stores to facilitate people who want to consume cannabis legally by providing those products because states heavily limit the hours of operation for straight cannabis retailers,” said Morgan Fox, media relations director and committee manager for the National Cannabis Industry Association. “There are opportunities for convenience stores to take up the market during those off hours.”