Well this was my first Tobacco Plus Expo (TPE) trade show and what a show it was. The team from Tobacco Media Group (TMG) and anchor sponsors Villiger Cigars, Drew Estate, and Philips and King put on a magnificent show. It all started on Wednesday morning, January 28th, with a Keynote speech by the calm, laid back, Karl Malone. He was not there to talk about basketball, but rather the message was clear – UNITY!!
Karl spoke about how businesses need to embrace competition, be inspired by what your competitors do, and embrace them as friends in the industry. Only then will the industry grow as a whole. During his speech, Karl thanked the TPE for including him and emphasized how we all need to be nice to each other. In business we must all earn it right and be honest with one another. He noted it is better to be focused on quality and not quantity and you should always try to do better. Treat people with respect, no matter what position they may hold in the company. Everyone contributes to the success.
The unity theme was carried through the convention floor with the largest cigar footprint ever for the trade show. Even with over 65 cigar brands represented, the premium cigar area was easy to navigate and meet and greet the owners and representatives. There were 3 main pavilions, each with at least 8 brands, some of which never interacted with each other, yet by the end of the show they all got to know one another. Unity once again. In addition to the pavilions, there were other brands that ran the aisles with modest booths such as Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, Jas Sum Kral, Foundation Cigars, even Rocky Patel, Altidas, and General had extremely modest booths.
Of course there were anchor sponsors as all trade shows need. At TPE2020 that included Drew Estate, Villiger, and Philips & King.
A constant anchor for the show over the years, Drew Estate had a stupendous showcase as you entered the floor. They had a full display of product, a shop like environment, and a large lounge to conduct business. The company was featuring their extended Undercrown Short Coronas. They also highlighted 5 packs of minis (ACID Krush, Sweet Jane, Tabak Especial, ACID Plush, and Undercrown Shade).
With the company opting out of the Premium Cigar Association (PCA) trade show this year, TPE was the place to meet and greet the Drew Estate team. Of course, with this being the Chinese “Year of the Rat”, Drew Estate capitalized and featured the 2020 version of the Year of the Rat cigars. At the Tobacco Media Group (TMG) awards night they even did a cut and light event of the Rat itself.
Philips and King
An operating unit of Kretek International, Philips and King had another large booth and not only showcased their Ventura Cigar Line but also the wide portfolio of brands they distribute. Philips and King is one of the largest tobacco product distributors in the world and they can work with even the smallest up and coming cigar shops with turn key stock and humidors to get things up and running. I got some time to sit with the always flamboyant Michael Giannini and talk about Ventura Cigars latest Archetype Line extensions, the Master and the Pupil, which were inspired by the studies of both Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung, who identified common threads and themes of storytelling that transcend both time and culture. Look forward to the review of these two new blends coming soon.
The company also had a guest appearance from the Tommy Chong, of Cheech and Chong fame. Tommy was promoting his CBD infused energy shots and sleep aids. He certainly drew a crowd of followers.
Another brand that opted out of the PCA both last year and this year, Villiger Cigars had a fairly expansive booth and was showcasing their latest blend the Do Brazil – a true Brazilian puro manufactured at the Company’s revamped factory in Brazil that comes in both a claro and a maduro offering. I sat down with Andrew Estop, Regional Sales Manager for Villiger North America to talk cigars, shops, and sports, including the new Do Brazil release. This cigar was not only showcased at their booth, they also handed them out at their event during the All Industry Party on the first evening.
The Premium Cigar Pavilions
As I noted, there were three premium cigar pavilions housing some of the finest boutique cigar lines on the market. Each was set up with kiosks displaying the company’s logo and name, which made them easy to find. To some it might have seem bland, but to me it worked. I applaud the simplicity in design and the “get right to business” approach of the pavilions.
Pavilion I showcased:
- AJ Fernandez
- Caldwell Cigars
- Espinosa Cigars
- Fratello Cigars
- JRE Tobacco Co.
- La Barba Cigars
- La Familia Robaina
- La Sirena
- Room 101 Cigars
- Santa Cruz Tobacco, LLC DBA Gran Habano Cigars
Pavilion II showcased:
- Aganorsa Leaf
- CUBANACAN HERITAGE
- Cuevas Cigar Group
- El Artista Cigars
- HVC Cigars
- United Cigar Group
- VICARIAS CIGARS
Pavilion III showcased:
- Cavalier Premium Cigars USA LLC
- Crowned Heads
- Crux Cigars
- Dapper Cigar Company, LLC
- Maya Selva Cigars
- PDR Cigars
- Southern Draw Cigars
- Vintage Rockefeller Cigar Group
Talking to the brand owners they all agreed the cost/benefit was to their advantage. They didn’t need to have expansive booths but rather a simple kiosk with their name and logo on it. Retailers found it easy to interact with numerous brands, without having to traverse a larger convention floor. It seamed to be working as orders were being written and new accounts were being opened. Here are just a few highlights from the show.
Southern Draw Cigars
Southern Draw Cigars, in Pavilion III, which was my first stop on the floor to present Robert and Sharon Holt, along with the whole Southern Draw team, the coveted Stogie Press #1 Boutique cigar of the year for 2019 – The Kudzu Lustrum. Southern Draw was also showcasing a Lancero extension to the popular Cedrus line. I sampled that cigar with them and I am really looking forward to doing a review on it.
Maya Selva Cigars
Maya Selva Cigars cranked up the innovation engine and was featuring a new sampler pack for the Villa Zamorano Reserva collection. Designed to look like a beer or soda can, the sampler contains 5 cigars – Expreso, Robusto, El Gordo, N°15 and the NEW Soberano. The handy container can also be used as a travel humidor, and its cap turns into an ashtray. Last year aficionados from around the word gave the VZ Reserva Collection Cigar Journal’s Best Value Award 2019. The company also added a 6 x 60 vitola to the Villa Zamorano Reserva Collection.
Rock-A-Feller Cigars was also in Pavilion III and were showcasing a beautiful box pressed Churchill line extension of their Dominican Blue blend, a collaborative work between owner Kevin Schweitzer and Cigar legend Victor De La Cruz. This was Kevin’s first TPE, and he and his Sales Director, Craig Roth, told me it was a successful show. Kevin Schweitzer explained the cigar as:
“Using Dominican Piloto and Seco HVA fillers bound with a Sumatra binder, the VRCG Dominican Blue Churchill is wrapped with an exquisite and aged Ecuadorian Habano leaf, all presented in a 7 x 48 box pressed vitola. This is truly an elegant and flavorful cigar.”
Cojimar was back in style this year in Pavilion II and was featuring the company’s famed infused brand of cigars. Rosie Perez, owner of Casa Perez Cigars spoke to me at length, explaining how the company has been in business since 1996 and are currently in about 300 stores nationwide. She wants to continue the growth of her company and TPE is helping her open more doors.
Omar was standing tall and showcasing a new value priced line of cigars. The company showed off 3 new blends:
- Fratello Blu (Blue)
- Fratello Rosso (Red)
- Fratello Verde (Green)
All three come packaged in 15-count bundles, are crafted at La Aurora in Santiago, Dominican Republic, and each are expressed in 2 vitolas:
- Robusto (5 x 50)
- Toro (6 x 50)
Interestingly, these Fratello’s are priced at $3.25/cigar!
Vicarious cigars CEO Jay Clark and I had a fun and engaging conversation that started with him handing me a sample of his company’s newest blend, The Negotiator, which was also shown at the 2019 PCA trade show. Our conversation got into depths of engineering, manufacturing, and business more than cigars, but Mr. Clark eventually tied it all back together when he explained the background behind the Negotiator blend. As the story went, he used to hand out small cigars like the negotiator at the bargaining table and would declare, “When I finish my cigar, I’m walking whether we have a deal or not.”
The Negotiator is a 4.5 x 48 box pressed vitola that has a full body blend described as:
- Wrapper – Mexican San Andres
- Binder – Dominican Olor
- Filler – Dominican, Nicaraguan, Pennsylvanian
Casa Cuevas makes the Negotiator for Vicarias Cigars
All Industry Party
The end of the first day was capped with an All Industry Party hosted by some of the biggest brands on the market, Drew Estate, Villiger, and Djarum. Each one was held in a venue in the Sahara Hotel and Casino so it made it easy to move between them.
The Drew Estate party was held in “The Theatre” and it was edgy and featured Chicago’s own DJ Eli cranking out the beats until closing time (9PM). Take a little stroll with me as I walk down the dark corridor and enter the party. Besides the music they also had a open bar and a BBQ buffet of such favorites as pulled pork, jerk chicken, cole slaw, and sandwich buns. Of course there were ample Drew Estate cigars to be had by all.
Villiger Cigars hosted a mellow after party in Club 101, with an open bar, Chinese buffet including pot stickers, pork puffs, and shrimp and tuna ceviche. Dueling pianos filled the room with classic rock and roll songs as party goers reveled through the evening dancing and enjoying the unity of all. The featured cigar was the new Do Brazil. Check out the short video to feel the vibe of this party.
Djarum Cigars hosted a party at Bazaar Meat where they were serving incredible steak and drinks. Smoking was not allowed in this venue though. I actually missed this one but heard the food was spectacular. I did however check out the gaming room just outside, where there was an open bar, gaming tables, and plenty of Djarum cigars to be had.
The Sahara Bar
Like all good trade shows, the party seems to just continue beyond the planned events and move right to the hotel bar, and TPE2020 was no different. The bar was the landing space late into the wee hours of the morning where conversation was plentiful and brand owners/representatives and retailers mingle in a more relaxed atmosphere to talk business. Sometimes I think this is where the real business deals happen.
Tobacco Business Awards
As is this case in previous years, Tobacco Business Magazine bestows awards on the cigar industry at a gala event and this year was the biggest event yet. With a significantly larger presence of premium cigar brands in attendance, the award night was packed with the “whose who” in the industry. The event took place at the end of day 2 and included an open bar and Hors d’oeuvres prior to the big reveal. The 3rd annual event, was much like a major awards show where the editor in chief of Tobacco Business Magazine, Ben Stimpson announced the nominees and then opened the envelope to reveal the winner. Jonathan Drew, joined Ben on stage for the first few awards.
Close to 11,000 individuals, from industry–retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers and consumers had cast their vote for 11 different categories. Additionally, the magazine’s staff and a select number of industry insiders selected the Hugo Chairman Award, which is named after Kretek International’s chairman Hugh Cassar. There was also a legacy award that is much akin to a lifetime achievement award. The categories and winners of this years awards are listed below. If you would like to watch the whole presentation I captured it during the event for your viewing pleasure.
Congratulations to all the winners.
- TOBACCONIST OF THE YEAR
Shore Thing Cigars
- TOBACCO CHAIN OR FRANCHISE
- HUGO CHAIRMAN AWARD
- LEGACY AWARD
Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr.
- DOMINICAN CIGAR OF THE YEAR
Arturo Fuente Hemingway Untold Story
- NICARAGUAN CIGAR OF THE YEAR
Oliva Serie V Melanio
Oliva Cigar Co.
- HONDURAN CIGAR OF THE YEAR
Rocky Patel The Edge Sumatra
Rocky Patel Premium Cigars
- BOUTIQUE CIGAR OF THE YEAR
- MASS-MARKET PRODUCTS
Davidoff Mini Cigarillos Gold
- ACCESSORY MANUFACTURER OF THE YEAR
- ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR
- WOMAN OF THE YEAR
Private Invite Party
I was invited to a private party, hosted by Tabac Trading Company owner and cigar maker Patrick Potter. The event was held by invitation only in a suite on the top floor of the Forum Tower at Caesars Palace. Patrick not only was showing his cigar rolling skills but also had a fine selection of spirits and samples of his cigar line. Patrick has had the honor to work in collaboration with the likes of Guillermo Pena of La Perla Tabaclera and Ernesto Perez Carrillo of E.P. Carrillo.
Though he does not consider himself a master he is working hard for it, Patrick has not only created classic and tasteful blends, but he also has been innovative in his methods by doing such things as swirling candela leaf in the filler and making a perfecto (Trifecta) that he says can be smokedfrom either end. In fact he applied the band in the middle of the cigar and cuts both ends, so you can choose what end to light.
It’s Closing Time
All in all, TPE2020 was a terrific event and showed the industry they can can unite behind what we represent. We are the lovers of the leaf and enjoy the business, friendship, parties, education, and fun this industry has to offer.
I end with what Karl Malone kicked off the event with – UNITY. Even though the booths were much smaller and for the most part, less elaborate, than what you experience at the PCA trade show, TPE worked. Time will tell as I reach out to brand owners to get their perspective in a post analysis to understand how effective it was for them.
Here is a slide show of the event for your viewing pleasure.
Other Than Cigars
TPE is more than just cigars and though I did not engage much with the other brands on the show floor, I did take some time to photograph some of the booths. I should say, the CBD and Vape area were much more vibrant in color and marketing than the premium cigar area.