Panagiotis Rousakis: “Bulgarians take interest in innovation and technology in many areas of life”

Celebrating 10 years since IQOS was first launched globally allows us to reflect on the myriad of lessons that we learned throughout our transformation

09:00 | 14 май 2024
Обновен: 10:56 | 14 май 2024
Снимка: Филип Морис България
Снимка: Филип Морис България

Panagiotis Rousakis is Head of Commercial Operations at Philip Morris Bulgaria. Building on his long experience in sales, financial management and business development in other economic sectors, he manages brand retail development and consumer experience projects at Philip Morris designed to implement the company’s strategic priorities towards completing its smoke-free mission.

Philip Morris Bulgaria is expanding its portfolio of smoke-free alternatives. How does this move fit into the company’s strategy?

Expanding our portfolio of smoke-free alternatives in Bulgaria represents a strategic imperative in our smoke-free mission. By offering a wider range of products, that includes both products from the heat-not-burn category and options in the vaping category, we cater to the discerning consumer preferences that increasingly move towards potentially less harmful alternatives to traditional smoking.

Having pioneered the tobacco heating systems, we now introduce a vaping proposal. Our strategy exemplifies the company’s dedication to meeting the evolving needs of all adult smokers who do not want to fully abandon smoking but are looking for less harmful options to fulfill their needs and who in the absence of such options will continue to smoke cigarettes. This strategic expansion not only matches their expectations and enhances our market presence but also cultivates a community of customers loyal to the smoke-free products category by providing a diverse array of choices.

This move signifies our unwavering commitment to innovation, consumer satisfaction, and ultimately, to completing our vision of a future where cigarettes will be a thing of the past which is underpinned by scientifically substantiated alternatives that have the potential to reduce the harm compared to traditional smoking.

What is the feedback from your large network of trading partners regarding your steps and your mission to build a smoke-free future?

The feedback from our broad network of trading partners has been overwhelmingly positive and deeply encouraging. It's particularly heartening when both our longstanding and more recent partners embrace our offerings with enthusiasm and show sympathy to our cause that they then promote to our users – the adult smokers.

We see a consistent trend for demand for smoke-free alternatives. We pay attention to all feedback from both our trade partners and the customers in our IQOS boutiques and appreciate their honest opinion. The response is mostly positive and serves as validation that our approach is right and as additional inspiration to continue pushing boundaries and striving for excellence.

In your opinion does the fact that the leading smoke-free alternative in your portfolio already has 350,000 consumers indicate solid progress?

Absolutely. That the leading smoke-free alternative in our portfolio has 350,000 consumers is indeed a significant achievement. This figure is a testament that the adult smokers in Bulgaria who would not quit altogether perceive our smoke-free alternatives as effective in their intention to move away from cigarettes.

Bulgaria is at the top of the list in terms of number of smokers in Europe and this fact underscores the pressing need for less harmful and at the same time more reliable alternatives to traditional smoking. That such a substantial number of smokers in Bulgaria essentially choose our smoke-free offerings speaks for the quality of our products. This result is key proof that our mission is achievable and reinforces our commitment to effect positive change. While there is still progress to be made, achieving this milestone invigorates our resolve to continue innovating and expanding our smoke-free portfolio, ultimately working towards a smoke-free future for Bulgaria.

How do consumers in Bulgaria accept the new products? What do you observe – resistance or understanding for the need to change?

Generally, Bulgarians take interest in innovation and technology in many areas of life. Although the general level of digitalization in Bulgaria is considered to be lower than the EU average, in reality access to information and online resources here is remarkable. This accessibility, coupled with excellent internet services, makes it possible for the wider public to stay updated and explore a wide range of options for lifestyle improvement.

In this respect the adult consumers in Bulgaria also show strong interest in the innovations concerning the various forms of tobacco or nicotine consumption. This explains why thousands of people who have smoked traditional cigarettes for decades and would not quit are interested in the smoke-free alternatives, especially when these alternatives combine innovation, science, and reduced harm.

In addition, Bulgarian society is open to embracing new things coming from abroad and values superior quality which is why the Bulgarian consumers are willing to adopt the international trends quickly. This implies that they are ready to change and accept innovation and new offerings, specifically if they live up to their expectations and preferences.

However, it's important to recognize that Bulgarians are also somewhat nostalgic for tradition and are cautious when it comes to spending money. Hence their desire to make informed decisions and ensure that investments are worthwhile in the long term.

In observing consumer behavior towards the new smoke-free products, we see this combination of curiosity and pragmatism. While there may be initial hesitance or skepticism, there is also genuine willingness to try something new, particularly if it offers tangible benefits or aligns with their values and lifestyle.

As innovators and game changers, it's imperative for us to approach this dynamic landscape with an open and constructive mindset. By focusing on education and transparency, and by highlighting the value proposition of our products without withholding information about the harms, we in fact build up trust among Bulgarian consumers. Moreover, by listening attentively to feedback and continuously refining our offerings based on consumer insights, we can improve our products and proposals, enhance consumer services and care and further increase consumer satisfaction and trust.

This year marks 10 years since the launch of the first version of your leading smoke-free alternative IQOS. In brief, what are the main takeaways so far from this decade of company transformation and industry transformation?

Celebrating 10 years since IQOS was first launched globally allows us to reflect on the myriad of lessons that we learned throughout our transformation. The momentous event from the end of 2014 in Japan is not only an occasion to celebrate achievements but it also marks the beginning of the dramatic change of our company and the industry as a whole.

In a decade of exploration, experimentation, and adaptation, we have gleaned invaluable insights that have reshaped our understanding of consumer behavior, market dynamics, consumer care and support in what is becoming a tech industry, the new models of doing business, as well as the intricate interplay between technology and science and how they ultimately impact public health.

As we navigated regulatory landscapes and addressed societal perceptions we have learned the power of resilience in the face of adversity. We have discovered the transformative potential of collaboration, forging partnerships and alliances that have propelled us forward on our journey towards a smoke-free future.

We learned the importance of listening to the needs of the consumers and to the voices of the stakeholders, and of keeping an eye on the ever-changing dynamics of the market. It is through this attentive listening that we were able to anticipate trends, identify opportunities, and iterate on our offerings to better meet the evolving needs of our audience.

Most importantly, our journey has reinforced the profound impact that a purpose-driven approach can have in effecting meaningful change on a global scale. It is a reminder that our mission extends beyond product innovation. It is about catalyzing a broader cultural shift towards healthier, more sustainable lifestyles.

We look to the future, and we carry with us the collective wisdom accumulated in a decade of transformation. We remain steadfast in our commitment to continue learning and pushing the boundaries of what is possible. For it is through our ongoing pursuit of knowledge and growth that we will truly realize our vision of transforming the habits of millions of people across the globe.

The materials is published with the support of Philip Morris Bulgaria.