that many tobacco industry experts saw as an indicator of things to come, last October R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. agreed to stop selling its candy, fruit and alcohol-flavored cigarettes as part of an agreement formed with 39 U.S. states. The voluntary move by the tobacco giant also ended the use of any reference — in terminology or imagery — to anything other than tobacco or menthol flavored cigarettes in packaging, advertisements or promotional materials.
A company spokesperson said at the time that the marketing of the products had led to “unintended perceptions and concerns” — those being that the tobacco products were being marketed to a youthful demographic.
This spotlight on flavors comes at a time when the tobacco industry worldwide is seeking to find ways to maintain its consumer base in the face of an overall drop in cigarette smoking due to increased legislation and bans. For the flavor industry, this is a crucial time that calls for innovation and thinking outside the box both in the creation and application of flavors, as well as continuing its growth outside the cigarette business and into such other tobacco products as cigars, snus, and smokeless. Another important factor for these companies is the increased focus on reduced-harm products and PREPs.
“Government legislation continues to be a huge concern,” said George Cassels-Smith, c.e.o. and director of U.S. sales at Tobacco Technology Inc. (TTI), the Eldersburg, Md.-based flavoring company. “Although governments tend to be slow to react, tobacco companies feel compelled to be aggressive in policing themselves, displaying a need to anticipate what legislation might be coming down the road.
Added Roger Penn, director of the group business unit-tobacco at French flavoring company Mane, “The impact of government legislation on the flavoring business is indeed something of concern for the freedom of creativity of flavorists, but of course is always necessary in order to protect the consumer’s interests. There appears also to be an activity on behalf of the manufacturing industry where they are developing their own compliance requirements and this obviously has extra burden, in terms of the creativity of the flavorists again vs. governmental regulations. So there are various tiers of compliance necessary within various geographical areas now. Overall the need is for the increased, enhanced creativity of the flavorists and product developers and also, of course, the acceptability of these new flavors by the consumer.”
Both TTI and Mane, along with other flavoring companies, are carefully eyeing developments in the tobacco industry and watching for emerging trends. One of those key trends is that the cigar business appears to be the catalyst for much of the growth in the flavor business.
According to TTI’s president Tom Cravotta, “Much of what we’ve seen is the continued growth of distinctive flavors, mostly in cigars but also slipping into cigarettes, smokeless, snus. Many of these are alcoholic beverage flavors designed to appeal to an adult customer.”
Cassels-Smith concurs, saying, “Flavors have become increasingly important to snus and snuff manufacturers, who are trying new ways to entice cigarette smokers.” But, he added, “Cigars continue to see huge growth in the United States and Europe. While flavors seem to be the impetus for growth here in the states, Europe has been incredibly slow to catch on to this market. Cigar manufacturers believe that through flavors, they can entice more people to their products. What we’ve seen is that there are fewer experiences available for the smoker to smoke, and we want to make those more enjoyable.”
The rise of smokeless and snus in response to smoking bans around the world has also led to a flavor explosion in those categories. “The phenomenon of oral tobacco products is relatively new,” said Cassels-Smith, “and looks to have a bright future in the United States and Europe. In the EU, it is anticipated that the current law will change, allowing sales of snus and other smokeless throughout the continent. (Editor’s note: In Europe, sales of smokeless tobacco products, including snus, are currently only allowed in Sweden.) Obviously flavors are going to play a significant role in the success of oral tobacco products going forward.”
Oral products are going to become more prevalent, he noted, as the big tobacco companies continue to explore and actively participate in the category. “RJR, Philip Morris, BAT, etc. — in addition to traditional smokeless company UST — are all developing or expanding their smokeless products,” he said.
Mane’s Penn has also observed this trend, saying, “Indeed, there is major growth in both the cigar and smokeless categories, and this will continue to be the case as consumers search for more types of satisfaction. This growth also inspires a need for new flavor characteristics for some of these products being offered in the marketplace.”
One nontraditional area where the flavor companies are also seeing growth is in water pipe tobaccos. “Hookah bars continue to emerge throughout Asia, Europe, and the United States,” said Cassels-Smith, adding that the water pipe tobaccos demand more flavors and a better delivery system.
All of these alternative tobacco products require different flavor approaches, noted Penn.
“In terms of smokeless tobacco products,” he said, “there has been major activity in the areas of snus/moist snuff, and much of this flavor is focused on soft red fruit characters plus other exotic elements. In the flavored cigar category there has been again a major differentiation between what we would call traditional characteristics such as vanilla, rum, etc., and manufacturers and consumers have become more experimental and more acceptable of the cocktail-type flavor systems or exotic fruit systems used in smaller cigars. Narghileh, or hookah, has really continued to be based on apple, grape, peach, apricot, and strawberry. There are some movements now in terms of maybe exotic fruit-type products as well and the total market is still increasing generally.”
Traditional Product, New Applications
Cigarettes, however, remain the backbone of the tobacco industry and as such, continue to demand innovation and creativity from the flavor companies. According to TTI’s Cravotta, one of the more interesting trends is the changes in how flavors are being applied.
“This is a key focus for TTI,” he said. “We’ve assembled an alliance with manufacturer partners that we call ‘FAST’ — Flavor Application Solutions for Tobacco. Our partners are Titan Adhesives, which helps us look for ways to improve flavor applications to adhesives in both cigarettes and cigars, and SPI Developments Ltd. (Rotherham, UK), working with Richmond, Va.-based tobacco machinery supplier Southlake Corp., to manufacture machines that will allow application of flavors in different stages during the tobacco manufacturing process, such as filter rods, paper, etc.”
At Mane, Penn noted that the latest innovations in flavoring technologies “will probably include top-flavor systems that are considered to be less volatile than normal. They will be more tobacco-flavor compatible, and in various new innovations there will be activities either in flavored filter products and maybe even in aromatized side-stream using the wrapping paper of the cigarette.”
Another focus — and challenge — for flavoring companies is the heightened focus on reduced-harm products and PREPs. “The cigarette industry in general,” said Cassels-Smith, “is aiming to reduce harm and as a byproduct of that initiative, is looking to add flavors. Flavors very often need to be added to compensate for compounds that are being taken out of the cigarettes — elements lost through filtration and ventilation, for example.”
“These products have dictated that we reconsider almost completely for this segment and it is with us forever, in terms of the industry and consumer requirements,” said Penn. “Certainly this is one of the major activity areas for the upcoming years. It will be with us as a permanent part of our library of flavor requirements.”