2FIRSTS Industry Insight: Vape Flavor Manufacturers are Preparing for a Future That is Both Limited and Fragmented
Article by Leona Zhu; Edited by Rui Tian - The flavor of e-cigarettes has become a direct driving force for consumers when selecting products. As a channel for interacting with consumers, the flavor of a product is a crucial "weapon" for ensuring that a brand can stand out in the industry. Flavor innovation is also an important direction for brand research and development of new products. Therefore, how to innovate on the basis of classic flavors, and how to stand out in the homogenized market has become a problem that major e-cigarette brands and e-liquid manufacturers tirelessly think about and explore.
In this regard, 2FIRSTS interviewed several Shenzhen e-liquid manufacturers and e-cigarette brand merchants to understand the current situation and development trends of e-cigarette flavors.
Single Flavor Development has Peaked, Fusion Flavors are the Trend
Currently, there are over a thousand e-cigarette flavors on the market. If we include those developed by companies but not yet launched, the number of e-cigarette flavors could exceed tens of thousands. This seems to be a consensus among e-liquid practitioners. These thousands of individual e-liquid flavors can be classified into several major types, such as single fruit flavor, composite fruit flavor, beverage flavor, pastry flavor, floral flavor, and so on.
According to 2FIRSTS' visits to key markets worldwide, different regions have different preferences for e-cigarette flavors. For example, the European and American markets prefer sweeter, more refreshing flavors. Russia prefers cooler and stronger throat-hit flavors, and Southeast Asia prefers heavier and more intense flavors.
The flavor preferences of these mainstream markets can be measured in parallel as "coolness + fruitiness + sweetness". Among them, the most widely used flavors are berry flavors such as blueberry, cranberry, grape, and kiwi. The reason for this is that berry fruits are relatively sweet and already have a wide market acceptance. They have unquestionably become the most popular flavors on the market.
Accuracy and "Memory Replication" are the Focus of Research and Development
"Innovative flavor" has always been an important way for e-liquid manufacturers and brand merchants to iterate products. However, Liu Hua (pseudonym), an e-liquid industry practitioner, said that the development of single flavors has reached its peak, and currently, everyone is focusing on the development of compound flavors. Compound flavors are mostly based on a combination of popular fruit flavors, which could be composed of 2-7 different flavors.
A fragrance expert from Yunshuo Technology told 2FIRSTS that there are two main ways to develop compound flavors. One is to blend two or more different fragrances to form a combined flavor, and the other is to highlight multiple flavors in the e-liquid to create a distinct layering of flavors.
In addition to the development of compound flavors, accuracy and "memory replication" have become important research and development directions in response to market demand.
An e-cigarette industry practitioner, Yu Ken (pseudonym), said that accuracy and "memory replication" of flavors are the two most mentioned aspects by consumers in market feedback.
Brand Leaders Set the Trend, While Hit Products are Both Accidental and Eventual
Several interviewees pointed out that successful major e-cigarette brands have wide coverage, perform strongly in most major markets, and receive high attention. They also have the ability to promote products with innovative flavors, therefore to some extent, the flavors of major brands represent the market's flavor trend.
However, not all major brands can succeed with every flavor. Hu Xin, CEO of Yunchuang Technology, said, "The success rate of new product launches is hard to predict. All products will be tested by the market, and repeat purchases are the sign of success for new products."
Many people believe that creating hit flavors is a matter of luck, with an unpredictable factor. But Hu Xin believes that creating hit products is not a coincidence, and there are certain conditions for making new products successful. For example, many hit products are of high quality, with outstanding advantages, no obvious flaws, and good flavor coordination.
Fusion and Refinement in Flavors, and Emphasis on Technology and Ingredient Advantages in the Future
On October 1, 2022, the "new national standard" was officially implemented, which prohibited the sale of electronic cigarettes with flavors other than tobacco flavor in the Chinese market. In December, the flavor ban was officially passed in California, USA. On October 1, 2023, the transition period for the flavor ban in the Netherlands will end, and the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes will be fully banned nationwide. The global market continuously signals the narrowing of flavor options and emphasizes the return to the essence of tobacco. Hu Xin believes that the narrowing of e-cigarette flavors is a global trend, and the most secure flavors are tobacco and mint, which require long-term preparation.
However, before the "flavor guillotine" officially falls, the development of fruit flavors remains an important strategic step for product market share. Regarding the trends and characteristics of future e-liquid flavors, Hu Xin provided the following answers:
Flavors are developing towards refinement and fusion. Hu Xin believes that flavor innovation requires both fusion and refinement. For example, flavors should not be roughly divided into apple, banana, etc., but rather refined and delicate, such as focusing on the watermelon flesh or rind to create differentiated and fresh flavors. At the same time, manufacturers should not blindly pursue novelty but pay more attention to the quality, aroma, and taste of flavors.
Introduce the new concept of "functional" flavors. Giving e-cigarette flavors functional properties will make them more popular among consumers. For example, adding functions such as soothing and calming, mood relief, and relaxation can broaden the functional boundaries of flavors.
The Importance Of Raw Materials And Technology
Several interviewees have stated that when purchasing e-liquid, the most important factor is whether the price is low. Regarding this, Hu Xin stated that currently there is no unified evaluation standard in the e-liquid market, and the market is very competitive, with most purchasers using price as the standard. However, as the e-liquid market becomes more standardized, raw materials and technology will definitely be given more importance.
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