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9 tips to help operators prepare for plain packaging

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Tobacco manufacturers are getting ready for the arrival of standardized packaging and preparing to support retailers with a range of measures.

“We are committed to providing clear communication to our retailers so they know what to do, and when to do it,”says Sylvain Laporte, president, Scandinavian Tobacco Group Canada.

Reorganizing storage, training staff and selling through inventory all takes time. Plain packaging will be implemented November 9 at the manufacturer level, and February 7, 2020 at the retail level.

Learnings from Australia

Around the world, several countries have implemented or announced their intention to require plain packaging, and a dozen more are studying the issue. Australia was the first in 2012, and lessons learned by c-store retailers there are helpful to understand challenges and opportunities for Canadian operators.

Plain packaging in Australia has impacted what smokers purchase and retailers have seen a shift towards sub-value, cheaper brands, soprice has emerged as the key driver. “Plain packaging has devalued brands and changed the sales mix sothat the key focus from consumers is on the cheapest price when there is no ‘image’ attached to a particular pack,” says Jeff Rogut, chief executive officer of the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS). “That affects sales and profit dollars.”

Without colour, pack shape or branding to differentiate between products, providing quick and efficient service is even more of a challenge. That can mean more time waiting in line for customers, and it increases the chances of choosing the wrong tobacco product.

Security measures have had to be strengthened – at retailers’ expense – as the cost of legal tobacco has risen. “Transaction times have increased as store staff must spend a considerably longer time with their backs to customers, sorting through similarly packaged products, increasing the risk of robbery,” Rogut says.

Research commissioned by Philip Morris and supported by the AACS and other retail associations reveals two-thirds of Australian retailers say it takes more time to train staff as a result of the changeover. More than three out of four retailers report an increase in the time taken to serve adult smoker customers.

Caroline Evans, head of corporate affairs & communications at JTI-Macdonald Corp., shares these tips.

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Quotes from this article originally appeared in the January/February issue of Convenience Store News Canada magazine.