Seven quick questions—and answers—about marketing U.S. e-liquids in Germany
By Stefanie Rossel
ASA Europe is a pioneer in bringing American e-liquids to Germany. The company, which has been exclusively distributing U.S. e-liquid brands in Germany since June, has its head office, warehouse and a vape shop in Mainz, Germany, near Frankfurt. ASA Europe is a wholesaler for vapor products and runs an online shop. In mid-September, it opened another vape store in Cologne; further shops are scheduled for launch in Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Mainz and Berlin in the coming months. Vapor Voice spoke with Erdal Zorsoeker, the company’s managing director.
Vapor Voice: You only recently entered the vaping business—how did this come about?
Erdal Zorzoeker: We started out with a number of shisha stores in the Rhine-Main area. Germany is a very strong market for water pipe smoking; interestingly, shisha and vaping are closely related in the mindsets of German consumers. Twenty to 30 percent of our shisha customers also asked for vaping devices, so we decided to give it a go. We think that vaping is the market of the future and view it as a serious competitor to combustible cigarettes.
You are focusing on supplying German vapers with U.S. brands only. Why?
German consumers are very much interested in U.S. vape brands. In contrast to German e-liquids with their rather classic flavors, juice varieties from the U.S. are much more unusual and complex and often consist of blends—coming, for example, as creamy-milky flavors, such as our “Muffin Man” or “Milkman” flavors, which are currently particularly popular with advanced vapers. Furthermore, American brands have a certain image: In pre-regulation times, there was significant demand for larger e-liquid bottles, to which U.S. brands catered with their 180 mL bottles. Altogether, I’d say that the U.S. vape market is three to four years ahead of the German market.
Talking about regulations, is it difficult to sell U.S. brands in the German market?
It is complicated to import liquids containing nicotine into the EU, and it is also very expensive due to high customs duties. With our partner US Vaping, this is no longer an issue: US Vaping represents some of the leading U.S. e-liquid manufacturers and has set up a production site in Paris, France, where they manufacture original U.S. brands flavors in compliance with EU regulations. From May 20, 2017, the revised Tobacco Products Directive [TPD2] will require all e-liquids to be sold in the EU as consumer products to have a maximum strength of 20 mg/mL; nicotine liquid containers can be no larger than 10 mL for refillable and 2 mL for disposable e-cigarettes and must be child- and tamper-proof. Health warnings, instructions for use, a list of all ingredients, the specific product’s nicotine content, and information on addictiveness and toxicity must be displayed on the packaging. We expect to see market consolidation among e-liquid manufacturers in the EU after May 2017; there will be more emphasis on the quality and processing of the flavors. Currently, vape stores are allowed to manufacture their own liquid in small-scale production; this won’t be possible anymore after TPD2 has been enforced.
So which products do you have on offer, and who are your customers?
We offer a range of vaping devices from InnoCigs, Joyetech, Smok, Eleaf, Uwell and others and have recently intensified our cooperation with manufacturers of premium U.S. hardware. Our value-for-money segment retails at around €20 ($22.41), but most of our hardware are high-quality devices that cost around €80 and are suitable for use with the premium e-liquid brands we offer—with an 80:20 ratio of vegetable glycerin and polypropylene glycol, their viscosity doesn’t allow for use in a lower-quality vaping device. As e-liquid brands, we carry such well-known U.S. names as Mad Hatter, One Hit Wonder or Junkie Juice with various flavors and nicotine contents. We are in negotiations with U.S. manufacturers outside the consortium who work in a similar fashion, i.e., with production facilities in the EU, so our e-liquid range is growing. Liquids with a nicotine content of 0 and 3 mg are among our best sellers, whereas those containing 12 or 18 mg are less sought after. Many of our customers are ex-smokers who want to quit with the help of vaping, but there are also newcomers who prefer non-nicotine juices. Many also switch from shisha smoking to vaping.
Do you also have a house brand?
Our house brand is currently in the making. We presented some prototypes at the InterTabac trade fair in Dortmund, Germany, this September. The flavor styles are based on popular shisha molasses brands; we see a significant market for such e-liquids in Germany since the country is such a big shisha market. We are planning to launch four proprietary brands for Germany for different price segments, which will be independent from our U.S. brands. One of them, a premium brand, is supposed to be introduced in the States, too, building on its German image. Following the launch of the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] deeming regulations, we are working on getting our house brand ready by November, the date after which all new e-liquids need to submit a premarket tobacco product application.
In mid-September, you opened a new store in the city center of Cologne. Can you share your experience so far?
Cologne has a lot of potential for vaping. Eighty to 90 percent of our customers are first-time vapers, though, and have only little experience with vaping devices, hence a lot of explaining is required. Finding adequate sales staff turned out to be a challenge, since vaping is a complex field with rapid developments. Sales staff must be dedicated vapers and stay informed. We are also still experimenting with the right hardware for tasting our liquids and are thinking about installing a test bar.
How do you promote your stores and products?
Mostly through social media. We are planning to start in-store activities soon and will stage a competition at next year’s HookahFair meets VaporFair in Frankfurt, the leading exhibition for vaping in Germany.