Earlier this year, a tobacco multinational with a significant presence in Greece invested 300 million euros in the country to create a product that will help smokers quit smoking. Philip Morris International’s (PMI) Greek unit, Papastratos, now oversees one of only two units in the world exclusively designed to manufacture PMI’s new IQOS heated tobacco products. Using heat sticks called HEETS, composed of premium quality tobacco, they are estimated to contain 90 percent less harmful chemical substances than cigarettes. The new production plant is located in Aspropyrgos in western Attica and is run by Papastratos Chairman and CEO Christos Harpantidis.
“Philip Morris International is committed to the smoke free vision,” said Harpantidis, a young and charismatic leader in the industry. Already, five million smokers have quit smoking and chosen IQOS instead, he noted. In fact, the new Aspropyrgos plant increased Paspastratos’ personnel by 50 percent, adding 400 new jobs and taking the total size of the company to 1,200 people, demonstrating just how much investment PMI is putting into healthier products.
“The problems of smoking are known to the world and very early on we took the responsibility of bringing better solutions for smokers that are interested in other alternatives,” said Harpantidis. “[PMI has] taken the initiative in developing these products, bringing them into the market and also informing the general public what these products are about.”
The new factory will eventually export its IQOS products to 30 countries.
This innovation in the industry will not completely disrupt the tobacco supply chain and eradicate Greece’s well-known, high-quality tobacco producers. Papastratos remains the largest manufacturer and distributor of tobacco products in Greece, and “these new products – HEETS for IQOS – contain Greek tobacco as a significant percentage, so this means that we will keep being interested in Greek tobacco,” explained Harpantidis, who hails from Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece and one in which the tobacco industry has been historically important to the economy.
In addition to boosting the Greek job market, growing its export economy and continuing to invest in Greek tobacco, the creation of the Aspropyrgos plant sends a message of confidence to international investors, as the investment was decided on during one of Greece’s most tumultuous times, before the end of the second review.
“Our investment is not just about making money; we love to say it’s about creating social surplus that gives more input to the overall economy,” said Harpantidis, who also noted that PMI has long believed in Greece and invested about a billion dollars in the Greek economy over the past 15 years.
Part of the reason why PMI is investing so much in Greece is its geo-strategic location in the Mediterranean and as an entry point to the European market, where approximately one quarter of the population smokes, according to a 2017 Eurobarometer survey.
Equally – if not more – important is the human capital found in Greece. “The basic ingredient of our success is the quality of the human resources in Greece,” said Harpantidis passionately. “The human capital is a central element of Papastratos and Philip Morris International. It is what drives this huge transformation we are in.”
Papastratos was recently recognised as a “Top Employer” in Greece, while PMI was recognised as a “Top Employer” in Europe. Harpantidis noted that more than 50 employees from Greece now have high-level positions in the company in places all over the world.
“This is a great company, and I am very sincere in that,” Harpantidis commented.
Harpantidis, who has been with Papastratos since it was acquired by PMI in 2003 and has served as CEO since 2015, also oversees the PMI branches in Cyprus, Malta, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Slovenia.
“This is another part of the vote of confidence of the mother company Philip Morris International in the Greek operations,” he explained. “My team and I have responsibility of a bigger territory.”
This works because there are synergies in the markets, and consumers in all of these markets have the need for better alternatives to smoking, Harpantidis explained. Cyprus, for example, is a small market but very progressive in terms of its thinking on tobacco products. “IQOS is doing really well there,” he noted, even though it has been in that market for a short period of time.
“We gain from each other and [are] moving all together to a common objective,” he said.
When it comes to the quick success of their new product, Harpantidis exclaimed, “the sky is the limit.”