Fall in UK distribution casts doubt over future of 555s

The future of British American Tobacco’s (BAT) 555 cigarettes is in doubt in the UK following the decision of several major supermarket chains to delist the brand only two years after it was launched.

The brand now has limited distribution in the UK, despite being launched with an advertising campaign worth close to &£15m at the beginning of 2002. Bates UK handled the advertising for the brand.

BAT launched 555 as a premium cigarette brand to replace Philip Morris’s Marlboro, which the company lost the right to distribute in 2001 to Imperial Tobacco. BAT more than halved its market share in the UK to six per cent following the loss of the market-leading brand.

Retail insiders say 555 has failed to catch on in the UK, where marketing support for the fledgling brand was curtailed after only a year by the ban on cigarette advertising. A company spokesman say 555 is still available in the UK and claims there are no plans to ditch the brand.

The news of the brand’s difficulties follows last week’s announcement that BAT’s Rothmans UK division is to be folded into the global company structure (MW last week).

About 100 jobs have been lost in marketing and sales over the past year, and the position of marketing director has still to be filled following the departure of Ralph Wittenberg to a managerial post in South Africa (MW January 29).

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