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The Truth about "Premium" E-juice
Why would anyone spend $25 on a 60ml bottle of premium e-juice when they could just as easily get TWICE as much of a different brand for HALF the cost? “Premium” is just a marketing term. It has nothing to do with how “good” something is, right?
Let’s get into it.
By definition, “premium” just means you’re going to pay more for it.
Products are frequently labeled "premium" for marketing appeal, even if they're average. Some aren't even good. You CAN put garbage e-juice in a bottle, call it “premium” and charge $30 for a 60ml bottle. You'll probably sell a few bottles. But you can’t build a sustainable business by ripping people off. Especially if you’re not allowed to advertise and you depend almost exclusively on word-of-mouth and customer loyalty.
If you're going to charge $25 for a 60ml bottle like Leviathan, our premium line, it has to be far superior to other products competing for your customers' dollar. It can’t just be better. You need to be reasonably certain that it's a product of such caliber that it will keep its fans coming back for more---the kind of flavor that inspires an uncontrollable need to convince everyone within earshot to get a taste.
If Leviathan was just average, or a “pretty good” e-juice in a fancy bottle with “premium” stamped all over it, someone might buy it out of curiosity, but within ten minutes their disappointment would be online for the world to see. The brand's reputation would be tarred practically overnight, and we’d be sitting here with half a million or so in sunk cost. The whole notion that “premium” is merely a marketing term that can be applied to anything to jack up prices doesn't hold up. It's just not sustainable. Marketing is important, but it only gets your foot in the door. You have to deliver the goods. So what separates the premium from the cheap? It comes down to four main differences: Recipe, Packaging, Quality Control, & Ingredients.
Simply put, a cheap product looks for ways to cut costs by cutting corners in all four areas, whereas a premium product seeks opportunities in each area to innovate and stand apart from the competition.
This is the one that has the most immediate and lasting impact. The flavor is what is going to make you love it and bring you back for more. It must be unique. It can’t just be a clone you found online. It can’t just imitate other companies. To make a great flavor profile, you need to spend a lot of time mixing. You have to really know what you’re doing and spend countless hours trying new things. Minuscule details become huge differences here. It's in the way flavors play together, the way different versions of flavors work, the millions of possibilities that allow you to tweak the blend ever so slightly until it’s perfect.
One complaint against “so-called premiums” I often see is the idea that if there are only a few different flavoring providers and everyone has access to all the same stuff, how different could they really be from each other? The playing field is level; no one has access to any secret magical ingredients.
It is true that there are only about 15 flavoring vendors, of which about 5 are doing most of the heavy lifting. All in all, you’re looking at around 600 different flavor concentrates. That’s all everyone has to work with. That’s the palette.
Step back and think about this for a moment, and the absurdity of this notion begins to set in. After all, every painting on this planet that exists was created from the same 20 or so pigments. And for centuries, there were only about 5. Do you know how many possible combinations there are with 600 ingredients? I don’t---not off the top of my head---but it’s a number so big it may as well be infinite.
To make e-juice, you dive into this virtually limitless palette and get to work. But you don't have to. One corner-cutting approach is to be downright unimaginative and just throw each of the 600 flavors into a bottle with VG/PG and nicotine. Poof! Now you have 600 flavors---without even doing any mixing. Of course, that's not how premium e-juice is created.
Within the flavor spectrum, you can create anything from awful and uninspired to audacious and truly spectacular. The difference is whether you’re willing to spend months perfecting a single blend or you’re just going to ham-fist a flavor or two together like "who cares?" because you’re going to put so much sweetener in it that it doesn't matter much anyway.
People like to talk about packaging as if it's nothing but inconsequential fluff. They use the term “perceived value” as if it’s a slur. Well, if you want to convince me that perceived value isn't real just because it's "perceived" then you also need to explain to me what reality is if not the sum of your perceptions. It's perfectly real.
Antonio Rangel, associate professor of economics at Caltech showed recently in a study that "perceived value" not only influenced how good something tasted to the volunteers who tried it, but also had a measurable effect on brain activity in the area involved with the experience of pleasure. People just like nice things.
Here are some objects I happen to have on my desk at the moment.
This $45 knife opens boxes and pretty much does nothing I couldn't do with my bare hands. Do I need a nice piece of German engineering for my daily doodling and jotting down notes? Not at all. There’s a box of free pens right over there. Would a $12 pair of imitation Ray Bans and a $1 coffee mug serve the same functional purposes? Sure. I guess. But when it comes to things I use regularly, that tiny bit of extra pleasure from a well-designed, high-quality product adds up, and I've decided it's worth the expense.
There are five branches of philosophy, and one of them, aesthetics, is devoted entirely to this phenomenon. You think attractive packaging doesn't add value? "It's just fluff that ends up in the garbage so why bother?" Really? A FIFTH of humanity's collective pondering is dedicated to our unexplained obsession with beauty. Right up there with big, daunting questions like "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is the query "Why are we so helplessly drawn to pretty things?" I don't have the answer, and the why doesn't really matter. You can call it superficial or stupid, but nonetheless we really do like nice things, especially nice things other people don't have.
Do you really think this strange, alluring, mysterious, EXPENSIVE bottle of Leviathan won't bring you more pleasure than a cheap bottle of gobbledygook? If so, go ahead and test your theory.
I looked at several articles on the topic of premium products, and ALL of them failed to mention quality control. It’s no coincidence they were all published by retailers rather than manufacturers. Don't they realize what a massive (and expensive) part of any respectable operation QC is? So much of what we do falls under the category of “quality control," it was ridiculous not to see it mentioned. I estimated 50-80% of the production process to be quality control, but our operations manager says it’s 100%. From beginning to end, it's the cornerstone of every single step. The machine fills the bottle; everything else is quality control.
There are about seventy different corners an e-juice manufacturer could cut but we don’t because when we say we care about quality, it's not just a slogan. It’s WHAT WE DO. We could choose to outsource everything and save a TON of money by sending our recipes off to a giant processing plant in China. And sure, some of those savings would be passed on to you. Instead, we make everything right here in our clean room, where we can see everything and ensure that our rigorous quality control standards are upheld. It’s expensive, but it allows us to be certain that everything is executed perfectly so that we can put a product in your hands that was made by us to our standards.
I already talked about recipe---the time and passion it takes to create something new and excellent. While raw ingredients are closely related to recipe, they certainly warrant their own division. It may be boring or obvious, but the simple fact remains: higher-quality ingredients make a higher-quality product. And higher-quality ingredients are more expensive.
So while we could use cheaper nicotine, our e-juice would taste harsh and peppery. We could also use cheaper flavor concentrates, but our e-juice would taste like medicine and we’d have to try to mask it with loads of sweetener. You’d save a few bucks, but you’d end up spending MUCH more buying new coils every other day. Sweetener is what causes gunked up, burnt coils. When you read online about people having to change their coils every few days, it’s because they’re vaping juice that has TONS of added sweetener to disguise funky chemical tastes and hide the fact that they don’t care enough to design a viable flavor profile.
I change my coils every few weeks. If you’re changing them every few days, you’re probably just vaping sugar. Even our most inexpensive line, the Artist Series, is known for being very easy on coils. That’s because we use only the best ingredients and we know how to mix them to build solid flavor profiles, so we don’t have to hide bad flavors with sweetener.
While there are relatively few flavor concentrate manufacturers and brands, they are not all equal---nowhere near. The price difference is just as dramatic as the difference in taste. Unsurprisingly, the good stuff costs a lot more. You can’t make great flavors with cheap ingredients. But you can make countless variations of one flavor: obnoxiously sweet with hints of pepper and cough syrup.