“Mazaya is only ten years old and it’s remarkable what the brand has come to achieve in such a short span of time.” So says Global Travel Retail Manager Rawan Elayyan, who looks back on the brand’s milestones as it celebrates its tenth anniversary this year.
“When we look back at those past ten years, we are delighted to see how the brand has matured, becoming one of the top three players in the shisha molasses category globally,” she adds. “We have succeeded in becoming a brand that is close to the consumers’ hearts, we have delighted passengers with premium GWPs and on-ground activations and raised the bar high in travel retail events and exhibitions.”
With the COVID-19 crisis taking Mazaya’s customers away from the airport stores and onto their screens, Mazaya was quick to adapt.
“As the travel retail landscape changed throughout the pandemic, it was very important for brands to learn to adapt quickly,” Elayyan says. “We were in ongoing talks with retailers and operators and we acted swiftly to face the new normal.” For Mazaya, this meant an aggressive multi-purchase promotion strategy and embracing all things digital. This includes the brand’s appearance at last year’s Moodie Davitt Virtual Travel Retail Expo and its participation at the upcoming Summit of the Americas — A Virtual Experience.
In this interview, we (virtually) sit down with Elayyan who discusses the impact of COVID-19 and Mazaya’s approach to weathering the crisis. She also shares her views on how the industry can secure a lasting recovery and highlights the potential of Americas region.
She says, “Going back to the Americas, we continue to treat it as ‘land of opportunity’ and we are keen to explore the untapped potential in the region. In the domestic market, Mazaya sales have been growing steadily, especially with the shisha smoking boom in the Americas, and we hope to see this growth reflected in the travel retail channel.”
What is the major focus for Mazaya at the Summit of the Americas – A Virtual Experience? What lines, launches or campaigns will you emphasise and showcase?
Shisha smoking is a growing global trend, particularly in the Americas where consumers are open to and experimentation. Mazaya has been an active exhibitor at the Summit of the Americas event for the past couple of years, during which we have successfully introduced our premium shisha molasses products to the region. During the last Summit of the Americas, visitors were able to try our exquisite shisha molasses in outdoor smoking lounge and really got acquainted with the brand.
We are proud to use the finest, single-origin French tobacco leaves blended with superior ingredients, such as pure honey, high quality glycerin and most importantly, food-grade flavours.
Mazaya’s portfolio encompasses more than 150 flavours, which cater to different consumer needs and preferences. Our pack sizes come in 250g, 500g and 1000g in order not to miss out on any purchasing occasion. This includes encouraging trials, catering to frequent at-home smokers, as well as those who are seeking more economical options.
While the touch and feel element will not be present at the Summit if the Americas — A Virtual Experience, we will still highlight our various pack sizes as well as our top selling flavours. These are the Two Apples, Lemon & Mint, Gum with Cinnamon and Blueberry Exotica.
We’re also highlighting four exotic flavours, pioneered by Mazaya, and particularly developed to cater to the wider American and Latino consumer base. These are Chambray Fio, Sarrada, Zaragata and Sweet Brown. These innovations set Mazaya apart in the shisha molasses category and provide retailers with a special offering to help boost sales.
We will also be sharing our corporate profile along with the travel retail opportunities that we can provide to new potential partners who are looking to include shisha molasses in their tobacco category.
What are your major targets by geography, channel or retailer type as you seek to tap into a recovering market?
We want to continue exploring the potential that the Middle East and Africa markets have to offer.
Despite all the challenges in 2020, we successfully listed Mazaya in the Casablanca and Morocco airports and kickstarted 2021 with an exciting listing with Lagardère Travel Retail in Saudi Arabia.
The government of Saudi Arabia finally gave the green light for tobacco brands to list at duty free and duty paid stores in airports across the Kingdom, and we are in talks with a number of different operators to expand our travel retail presence there. After all, it is a market with huge potential and Mazaya is already very popular in the Saudi local market.
Going back to the Americas, we continue to treat it as “a land of opportunities” and we are keen to explore the untapped potential in the region. In the domestic market, Mazaya sales have been growing steadily, especially with the shisha smoking boom in the Americas, and we hope to see this growth reflected in the travel retail channel.
One focal point for Mazaya would be border stores in both North and South America. We’ve already secured listings with stores on the Argentina-Uruguay and Uruguay-Brazil borders and we look forward to maintaining this momentum in the region.
How do you view the continuing impact of COVID-19 on travel retail and the wider industry?
Generally speaking, FMCG has not been as severely hit as other sectors, in fact some categories even had a major spike in sales. Mazaya was among the less-impacted categories as we did very well in certain domestic markets during the pandemic, especially those where we are well established and have a steady supply.
However, this was not the case for our travel retail business, which suffered the biggest hit as regulations were tightened, passenger numbers dropped, and travel plans were postponed.
During the pandemic, we noticed that people reduced the time spent in duty free stores. Since the in-store decision-making process was shortened, customers tended to stick to tried-and-trusted brands. For shisha smokers in particular, we noticed that shoppers started buying more in bulk, not only to benefit from the tax-exempted duty free prices, but also to stock up their favourite shisha molasses in case they go into another lockdown.
Another key factor was the reduced purchasing power of travel retail shoppers in general. In these uncertain times, people have lost their jobs or have reduced pay, making them more price sensitive. Our strategy is to reshuffle our sales and marketing funds and replace the state-of-the-art on-ground activations that Mazaya is known for, with aggressive multi-purchase and price-off promotions.
This strategy has proven to be very successful in meeting our buyers’ reduced purchasing power. At the same time, we remained true to ourselves as a premium brand and treated our customers with a premium glass shisha product in selected locations. This helped introduce new customers to shisha tobacco and helped grow the tobacco category, which was well-received by the operators.
In your opinion, what are the biggest category trends that will influence your travel retail business in the post-COVID-19 landscape?
The digital revolution is an important trend because the pandemic has definitely accelerated how brands are adapting to the digital landscape. In 2020, Mazaya was a silver exhibitor at the Moodie Davitt Virtual Travel Retail Expo and a sponsor for the DFNI Virtual Frontier Awards. We wanted the travel retail community to come together in challenging times and celebrate our resilience and innovation.
As the travel retail landscape changed throughout the pandemic, it was very important for brands to learn to adapt quickly. We were in ongoing talks with retailers and operators and we acted swiftly to face the new normal.
Aggressive promotions replaced the on-ground activations, multiple training sessions were conducted online with our brand ambassadors and zoom calls replaced market visits to keep a close eye on changes happening on the shop floor. We also re-evaluated our portfolio across the different locations and optimised our range with new flavors. We also encouraged operators to list our 1000g pack size, which is a more economical option for the frequent shisha smoker.
In terms of category trends, we noticed that older smokers usually have set preferences for molasses flavours, compared to the younger customers who are more open to experimenting. Flavours such as Candy Drops, Blueberry Exotica and Gum Cinnamon appeal to the young shisha users. Whereas signature flavours like our famous Lemon Mint, Two Apples and Two Apples Bahraini appealed to older generations and will always be integral to our portfolio.
The Pan Masala and Pan Raas flavors are also noteworthy additions to Mazaya’s portfolio. Given the importance of the South Asian demographic in the GCC and the United Arab Emirates, Mazaya has decided to launch these two flavours to cater to the South Asian smoker. This is an example of how creativity and innovation can drive recovery in travel retail.
Last year, Mazaya ‘seduced the senses’ with a successful run at the inaugural Moodie Davitt Virtual Travel Retail Expo. Now, you are once again embracing the virtual format at the Summit of the Americas — what are your thoughts on the virtual show format and what it brings to your brand in the current climate?
The virtual format of the Summit of the Americas resonates well with Mazaya as we are a young brand with a flair for innovation. With air travel still restricted, it’s important to fully utilise the digital landscape to continuously engage with retailers and operators worldwide. This takes us back to the notion of adaptability in today’s fast-changing world.
Moreover, the digital format is a cost-effective measure to meet-and-greet different players in the industry. The virtual format can’t be compared to a physical event, as the human element plays such an important part in our business. However, it does provide a good platform to introduce our brand to new potential partners in the midst of all the travel restrictions.
Mazaya is known for its striking in-store presence and on-ground experiential activations. With physical travel severely curtailed by the crisis, how are you engaging with your customers?
Realistically speaking, the business will not go back to normal overnight even with the rollout of vaccine. It will take time for people to overcome the fear of travelling during the pandemic, which is why our 2021 strategy is to recoup from the losses incurred in 2020. To do that, we must continue engaging with our customers and allocate funds for an aggressive comeback. Whether that be through multi-purchase and price-off promotions, a well-trained fleet of brand ambassadors to assist and educate shoppers or through listing new SKUs with high potential.
We must continue to be flexible and quickly adapt to changes, while keeping the customer at the heart of our business, even when on-ground experiential activations and striking in-store presence are put on hold for reasons beyond our control.
How would you like to see industry partnerships evolve as we enter a new era for travel and travel retail?
We need to strengthen ties with retailers and operators to closely monitor the changes in the travel retail landscape. Operators should be open to new listings to pushing sales and reach new customers. Lockdown has given us all some time to look back and reflect on how businesses could be optimised and ask what can we do better and how can we better serve our more price-sensitive customers? These discussions should happen more frequently between brands and retailers to accelerate growth and gain a better understanding of the ‘new normal.’
We’d also like to see more support from governments. One regulatory challenge the industry is facing is that some countries in the Middle East are abolishing the tax exemption in arrival shops. This will definitely slow down recovery as arrivals contribute substantially to our sales.
Also, in arrivals, there is a 1kg weight restriction of in most countries, which prevents brands from listing bigger pack sizes. In our case, the 1k pack performs quite well as a more economical option for frequent smokers. Not having this item listed in arrivals is definitely a lost opportunity for us and travel retailers alike. If governmental regulations like these ease up, it would really help everyone.
How do you think the channel can and should engage with travelling consumers to ensure a sustained recovery?
We should work together to make shoppers feel safe and comfortable in travel retail stores. Social distancing and enhanced sanitation are a top priority, in addition to disinfecting samples or any display items that shoppers regularly interact with.
We also need to focus on price-off and multi-purchase promotions over experiential on-ground activations, even though the latter would better enhance the shopper’s experience. This is because the pandemic has minimised time spent in stores. The channel should embrace digital and give shoppers the option to pre-order and pick up at gate.
Outside of travel retail, the world should relax travel restrictions once the vaccine is rolled out and support travel retail stakeholders to cope with reduced passenger numbers and demand. For the tobacco category, we need to revisit weight restrictions placed on the total weight of goods purchased in arrivals and not introduce taxes to arrivals duty free.
Finally, we should keep open lines of communication between brands and retailers. Margin calculation, rebates, portfolio extension and range rationalisation should be encouraged at both ends in order to optimise operations and work as a team to overcome this challenging period together.
Mazaya was launched in 2010 with the aim of becoming a pioneer in high-end tobacco-molasses and Shisha technology. After marking your ten-year anniversary in 2020 — what does the new decade bring for Mazaya, particularly in the travel retail channel?
Mazaya is only ten years old and it’s remarkable what the brand has come to achieve in such a short span of time. Shisha culture goes beyond smoking and includes an important social and personal aspect. Shisha allows people to relax and unwind, either alone at home after a long day or with friends at the local coffee shop. Mazaya is a brand that understands the little nuances between those different occasions and caters to ever-evolving consumer needs.
Our brand is committed to providing an unmatchable shisha experience through sourcing best-in-class French tobacco leaves and using innovative, long-lasting food grade flavours that appeal to different tastes with an agile and flexible route-to-market.
The travel retail channel has always been important to Mazaya and we are committed to a strong come-back when the vaccine is rolled out and people are ready to fly again. For us, travel retail offer an opportunity to increase our brand awareness among local and international travellers especially since duty free shopping has become a routine practice for smokers because of the tax-free savings.
When we look back at those past ten years, we are delighted to see how the brand has matured, becoming one of the top three players in the shisha molasses category globally. We have succeeded in becoming a brand that is close to the consumers’ hearts, we have delighted passengers with premium GWPs and on-ground activations and raised the bar high in travel retail events and exhibitions. Today, Mazaya is an integral part of the tobacco category and a brand capable to securing additional revenue streams for travel retail operators.
Click on the video above for an explanation of how the virtual Summit of the Americas event works for exhibitors and visitors
To learn more about this opportunity, please download the 2021 Virtual Summit Information Briefing. For virtual stand reservations or media, please contact Irene Revilla at Irene@MoodieDavittReport.com.
For general questions about participation in the Virtual Summit, please contact Steven Antolick for further assistance.