Makla, a smokeless tobacco product manufactured by Sifaco, is a blend of chopped Russian tobacco leaves mixed with texture agents like water, food-grade oil and flavoring agents, and is also free of chemical additives. Makla is made utilizing a 100-year-old production process that creates a product that lasts like pure tobacco. Recently, Sifaco partnered with Kretek International and Phillips & King to help expand the Makla product in the U.S. market.
“In the U.S., we are targeting American consumers, many of whom already use moist snuff or chewing tobacco, as well as foreign-born consumers who already know what Makla is but haven’t been able to find it in a U.S. retail outlet,” explained Thierry Parisot, CEO of Sifaco-Benelux S.A. “We are proud to work closely with Kretek and Phillips & King as our partners in U.S. They will help build Makla’s brand awareness and capture market share with their expertise and business relationships in the U.S.
A FAMILY’S STORY
The manufacturer of Makla has a long history in business that dates back to 1865, when the Bentchikou family first launched its business in the French area of Algeria. After the first World War, one of the company’s founding members invented the Makla product. In 1962, the Bentchikou family partnered with the Parisot family from Le Mans to found Sifaco France, which managed all of Makla’s distribution, and Sifaco Benelux, which concentrated on Makla’s production needs in Belgium.
“This is a family-owned company,” David Morton, Sifaco’s international sales manager explains. “The smokeless tobacco [category] is a niche market, and Makla is a leading product in continental Europe, especially in France, but also in Southern, Central and Western Europe. Our CEO’s philosophy is to make Sifaco and the manufacturing and sale of Makla a never-ending successful family story.”
While U.S. expansion is the company’s latest focus, it has partnered with other family-owned manufacturers internationally to help grow Makla’s reach. In Switzerland, Sifaco works with Oettinger Davidoff AG, and in Italy with Royal Agio Cigars. In partnering with Kretek International and Phillips & King in the U.S., Sifaco hopes to educate retailers and consumers about how Makla differs from U.S.-style smokeless tobacco or chew products.
SMOKELESS TOBACCO PRODUCTS
For retailers lacking smokeless tobacco products, Makla can help build sales in the category. Makla is currently available in four different varieties: Makla Platinum, a 25-gram tobacco flavor product that is currently the company’s best-seller; Makla Red, a 20-gram tin; Makla Ifrikia, a 20-gram tin and the brand’s only menthol-flavored products, and Makla El Kantara, available in a 25-gram tin. For retailers planning to launch Makla product within their stores, the company suggests starting with Phillips & King’s prepackaged display, which will feature one sleeve of each flavor.
“This will give consumers a choice of flavors, nicotine strengths and tin size,” Morton says.
Additional marketing materials are available to retailers, including a brochure for consumers that will explain what Makla is and a document that provides a history of the product, family and company to help consumers familiarize themselves with the product and the company that manufactures it. This is all part of Sifaco’s efforts to place an emphasis on education, something it realizes is necessary considering the fact that Makla will be unfamiliar to many U.S. retailers and consumers.
Makla is targeting tobacconists, discount tobacco outlets and cigar stores as it looks to expand within the U.S. market, but the company is also willing to work with any retailer who is interested in the Makla line of products and is willing to take the time to help Sifaco grow its customer base and increase its product reach.
REFINING THE CATEGORY
For Sifaco, its current focus is on growth and expansion. Data and analytics the company has collected is viewed as positive by Parisot and Morton, who both see opportunity in the U.S. market. Its Makla product has a pure tobacco taste and subtle strength, and the level of nitrosamines (TSNAs) remains below the levels set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but according to Parisot, there’s still room for improvement.
“Our main goal nowadays is to still decrease the levels [of nitrosamines], while keeping the ingredients as they are,” he says. “We are always looking to improve our processes and product.”
Sifaco recognizes that there are obstacles and hurdles to overcome, but the company is ready to take them on. While Makla may be a new product in the U.S., the product’s popularity abroad gives Parisot hope that it will find a similar following within new retail stores. While he will rely on the company’s new U.S. partners to help gain traction in the U.S., he also knows that developing the smokeless tobacco category through education will be key.
“We must overcome some of the same hurdles that snus manufacturers did in the beginning,” says Parisot. “That includes educating the consumer and targeting groups of consumers that have been using the product for years but are having difficulty finding retailers in the U.S. who carry it.”
– Story by Antoine Reid
This story first appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.