Author: Arnab Ghosh is the VP Marketing, International Business of GPI.
If we were to draw parallels, in just 200 years, cigarette manufacturing has gone from the first-machine-rolling-on-a-farm-age to a multi-billion-dollar-global-high-tech-automated-industry-age. Not a very long period in terms of evolutionary references. But if we look at where the tobacco industry stands today in terms of products, technology, research, innovation and strategy, it stands tall in comparison to the first days of commercial cigarette manufacturing.
Initial machines produced 200 cigarettes a minute. Today, that figure is around 12000. Technology and the art of blending have together propelled the tobacco manufacturing industry to meet global demand. But it’s not just numbers. Focus has steadily shifted towards innovation in product, ingredients and packaging as well.
Cigarettes – ‘stick’ing with innovation
Innovation in pack type, cigarette size, filter specification, carbonated filters, flavour capsules – are dominating current trends across the tobacco spectrum.
Product or variants: More variants, more sizes
From the original full flavour regular size variant, cigarettes today have come a long way, with consumers being able to choose from lights, ultra-lights, flavoured ones and so on in a number of sizes that today include regular, king size, slim, super slim, demi slim, 100s and 120s. These are some of the trends in the innovative cigarette formats currently available.
Low delivery cigarettes: Made with adapted perforated filters and levels of tar which are as low as 1mg or 0.5mg, low delivery cigarettes are exactly that – they allow for lesser tar to be inhaled during a smoke.
Capsule cigarettes: Unique flavoured cigarettes where the filter has a capsule embedded. The user can crush the capsule any time during the smoke to infuse flavour. Originally available in menthol flavour, capsule cigarettes now include other tobacco flavouring such spearmint, lemon-mint, apple-mint and strawberry-mint. Capsules have been incorporated into various cigarette formats such as king size, super-slim and longs. The latest innovative development in this category is the integration of double-flavoured capsules, also known as double-capsule cigarettes.
Demislims: Demislim cigarettes are the newest addition to the different cigarette formats available. This self-descriptive cigarette is slimmer and longer than the normal king size but broader and shorter than its predecessor, the superslim.
Nano-cigarettes: Nano-cigarettes are a trend that has become popular among users. While nano-cigarettes are of the same length as a king size cigarette, they remain compact due to a reduced diameter of 5mm instead of 7mm.
Additive free cigarettes: These cigarettes contain higher percentages of tobacco and are free of ingredients such as molasses, flavouring, etc that are used to bind the tobacco and make it burn slower.
Low smell cigarettes: Made with blends of high quality tobacco leaves and fitted with special filters, these cigarettes, as the name suggests, target a concern aired by many tobacco smokers – the smell.
The filter is undoubtedly the most high-tech component of a cigarette, and one that is commonly overlooked by the user. But the innovation infused into a smoking experience is largely and intricately linked to the filter. This space has probably seen the highest levels of technological marvel unfold in the tobacco industry. They not only alter the smoking experience, but also filter out larger smoke particles and water-soluble components.
Recess filters: The recess filter has a bit of extra paper extending out towards the mouth of the smoker. The filter is wrapped with an outer plugwrap which is longer than the filter segment(s), which creates the recess or gap. This is available in both standard and porous formats and is used in both normal and dual filters.
Capsule filters: These are filters embedded with a small capsule. The user can crush this capsule any time during the smoke to release flavour and moisture. Placed between the activated charcoal end and the filter end (towards the mouth), the capsule is available in many flavours including the most popular menthol. They possess a cooling effect and make the smoking experience smoother.
Charcoal filters: A filter made using activated charcoal, either as a cavity filter or embedded in the conventional cellulose acetate fibre, which is the base agent of a filter. These filters are known to selectively reduce many vapour phase smoke intoxicants.
Dual filters: A step ahead of the evolutionary curve, dual filters comprise two filter segments. Each of these segments has different design parameters such as porosity, pressure drop, etc. One of these segments can also include activated carbon or charcoal to better filter out impurities and improve smoothness of the smoking experience.
Shape flavour-filters: Specialty filters with flavour-inducing capsules, these come in creative hollow-tube segments. These segments contain a range of shapes from triangles to hearts, that can be customized.
Packaging: More shapes, many sizes
Constant innovation in cigarette formats have meant a cohesive and parallel creative approach towards designing cigarette packs as well. Today, factors like cigarette size alone don’t dictate how a cigarette pack will look. Climatic conditions across geographies and user convenience are emerging as parameters for new and evolved pack designs. Here’s a quick glimpse of the various pack formats available today.
Round: The vertical corners of the cigarette pack are smoothly rounded. An unconventional shape for a cigarette pack, rounded packets are becoming a rage, with additional creative modifications adding an element of class and quality.
Bevel: The corners and edges of a cigarette pack are flattened out to give an appearance of an octagonal shaped pack. They give users increased tactility and denote possession of a premium brand. Bevel edge packs also look modern and contemporary with clean lines.
Sliding: This pack can be opened by sliding the sleeve around the outer side of the carton. The sliding container can open at the front of both outer coverings with a closed base surface. An unconventional form of packing, it demotes exclusivity and ease of usage.
Re-sealable: Re-sealable or re-lock cigarette packs are designed to lock in flavour and moisture, especially in hot and arid regions where cigarettes tend to lose moisture once the pack is opened. The pack is provided with a window type opening that extends across a portion of the top and front wall. This is then resealed by insertion of a tab.
In the smoking tobacco space, cigarettes are not just transforming, they are mutating. Tobacco companies are pulling out all the stops to give users an array of choices including more and newer flavours, double-capsule double-flavoured cigarettes, unique and exotic tobacco mixes that promise different smoking experiences and so on. Innovations continue to change the kinds of formats, flavours and filters being used. Scalable innovations like tube filter-menthol combinations signify a futuristic approach towards innovating the humble cigarette.
More innovation in the tobacco space
Interestingly, cigarettes are not the only product category where tobacco companies are lining up options for users. Shisha and vaping products are witnessing innovation at an unprecedented level.
Shisha – Innovative evolution
One of the oldest forms of smoking tobacco, shisha has become extremely popular the world over as a social form of smoking. This traditional molasses-tobacco combination has come a long way from its supposed inception half a millennium ago. Years of expertise in tobacco and innovation-driven research have resulted in shisha taking newer and more creative forms like the shisharoma or steam stone, hydroponic gel forms and even sugarcane & tea based shishas.
Vaping – capturing user insights
Vaping products that have exploded onto the smoke-free nicotine space have come into their own as a product category, capturing consumer insights and responding with a slew of devices that are breaking new barriers. More efficient designs, better quality of e-liquids, improved battery life of devices and a mind-boggling range of flavours being added – the innovation in the vaping space is steadily keeping pace with rising popularity of the e-cigarettes space. With initial research already exploring the use of synthetic nicotine and new products like the tank capturing markets at a very swift pace, the trend for the vaping space is not just a product, but a deeply ingrained focus on innovation.
The way forward
Giving consumers a range to choose from and fulfill the growing need for bio-degradability and eco-sustainability – these factors will continue to dictate the direction innovation takes in the global tobacco industry. It is no surprise then that this spurt in product and strategy driven innovation is rapidly shaping itself into a self-fulfilling goal thanks to more and more people taking to newer products, fueled further by rapidly changing consumer behavior.