Graded: The Ten Questions for 2013

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For the past few years, Charlie Minato has written an article in late December where he ponders ten questions he has for the cigar industry in the following year, aptly titled The Ten Questions for ____. This year, we decided to expand the article by following-up on his questions from the year before by grading them by relevance. The goal of the original editorial is always to pose ten relevant questions. Some times, he nails it; other times, he asks questions that ended up not remotely relevant. If you haven’t read the Ten Questions for 2013, some of it is below, but shortened a bit.

1. FDA?

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There will be a day, I hope, when this is not a question. While there was a lot of good, up until recently the energy and commitment from the industry publicly seemed to have taken a collective drop. There are a lot of questions going into 2013, unfortunately the FDA is the one question everyone by default has to wonder about. This isn’t a ranked list of questions, but there’s honestly no point starting with anything else.

There should be no doubt that the possibility of FDA regulation of the premium cigar industry has loomed large in 2013. In mid-December, Mitch Zeller, the head of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, provided what may be the first glimmer of hope for the cigar industry when he said that “we have gotten the messages that there may be differences when it comes to premium cigars versus other cigars and the message is that FDA needs to take that into account into figuring out how they should be regulated.”

What that means when it comes to the FDA crafting its pending “deeming document” remains to be seen, and Zeller didn’t put a timetable as to when that document might be crafted and presented for comment. Until then, the industry will have to wait and see while remaining pro-active in getting the word out about the differences between premium cigars and other tobacco products.

Grade: Incomplete

2. ANOTHER CRAZY YEAR FOR NEW MEDIA?
Call it what you want, but the blogosphere went over a pretty remarkable makeover in 2012. Step forward? Step backward? Who really knows.

It started early with some movement (Barry Stein of acigarsmoker.com to Miami Cigar & Co.) and consolidation (Smoking Stogie, TheCigarFeed and Patrick Lagreid’s contributions to Examiner.com are now halfwheel) and it finished quite spectacularly. Dog Watch Cigar Radio is no more, the long-time face of Nice Tight Ash (Ben Lee) is now at Stogie Review, Christine Morgan is (also) at Mike’s Stogies, Dan Reeve moved from Cigar Explorer to Cigar Press and Toasted Foot is resurrected with new ownership. There are those promising a revolutionary change to the medium: Cigar Evaluations (not launched), Cigar News (“not completed 100% yet”), Newest Cigars (delayed) and this…

The landscape continued to change in 2013, most notably with some alliances being formed, particularly the growth of CigarFederation.com into a multi-faceted enterprise that has brought several writers together to run a site owned by a cigar brand (the owners of Ezra Zion) that also has as an online store (the Cigar Federation online store) which is the official online arm of a retailer (Delaware Cigars) who is managed by someone who (Gary Griffith) happens to own a cigar brand (Emilio) and cigar distribution company (House of Emilio) that distributes the previously mentioned brand (Ezra Zion) whose owners also own said site. So yes, it has been a fairly crazy year in that regard.

Cigar Evaluations is now a parked GoDaddy site that needs renewal, Newest Cigars hasn’t posted in several months and I can’t figure out exactly what Cigar News is all about. Las Vegash TV’s most recent post is the same one mentioned above, telling us what we can expect for 2013.

As for the relationship between IPCPR and online media, it didn’t get off to the best of starts this year, with Stogie Review toeing the line and almost getting kicked out of the show for posting content from the show floor before the event started. The relationship hasn’t seemed to evolved much this year, and looking ahead seven months from now to the 2014 show, I still don’t really know what to expect.

Grade: Definitely crazy.

3. PAGING RAÍCES CUBANAS (ET AL.)

Two years ago this was the factory. Now? Despite winning the January prize every manufacturer cares about, this just wasn’t a good year.

At halfwheel, we reviewed nearly 30 new cigars out of Raíces Cubanas in 2012; three scored 90 or above, double (six) failed to receive purchase recommendations (83 and below). Sure, the vast majority were Viajes, but with the exception of a few Alec Bradleys, ~ULTRA~, a new Epernay that doesn’t seem to be in stock anywhere, El Diario and some house brands, what else came out of Raíces Cubanas that debuted this year?

And quite frankly that’s besides the point. There are massive back orders and a noticeable decline in quality out of many of the older staple products from the factory. I don’t honestly think it’s simply a problem in Danlí, but it still doesn’t change the fact that 2012 was not the banner year for Raíces.

Judging by scores from this year’s releases on halfwheel alone, Raíces Cubanas did have a bit of a bounce back, but that shouldn’t be cause to think the factory is all the way back. While the Raices Cubanas 1941 that Alec Bradley is distributing scored well on halfwheel, there is still some room for concerns. Illusione, Casa Fernández and Ezra Zion have all taken new releases to TABSA in Nicaragua. Some of that is production capacity, but a lot has to do with the status of the factory. Are they the hitmakers they were in 2012? Certainly not, but they do seem to have finished 2013 on a higher note than they started it.

Grade: Sort of.

4. WHEN WILL THE REP MAKEOVER TAKE PLACE?

Last year I wrote “this was something to watch,” this year it’s time to get the popcorn. There are murmurs growing by the day about what will likely be a major shift in the way some of the noted brands of the industry are represented. I still think there’s something to be said for the growing collection of independent reps for newer and smaller brands, but the area where the movement seems headed is bigger. And then there’s the growing Emilio portfolio. More on that below.

The rep market seems to be one of the most fluid pieces of the industry, as some companies have added in-house reps, some fired theirs and went to independent reps, while many more maintained the status quo for now. Was it a major shift? Not even close. It certainly wasn’t as big of a trend as we thought it might be going into 2013, and at the end of the day the consumer probably didn’t feel whatever changes were made.

Grade: Big miss.

5. SHOULD WE JUST GIVE UP ON COMPLAINING ABOUT LIMITED EDITIONS?

It’s gotten to the point where limited editions seemingly are being crafted simply for the sake of being new and/or limited. I’ve said it before, but from the production side of thing there can be advantages of making limited editions, particularly if there’s a limited supply of specific tobacco. That being said, when a company’s first release is a limited edition I do scratch my head.

I’ve yet to walk into a humidor and see a wall full of limited edition or small batch cigars. The staples of humidors time and time again are regular production releases, the stuff on the table is the limited stuff; and oftentimes it doesn’t seem to be moving. Every week I hear manufacturers and retailers complain about the flood of limited editions as if it is the bane of each’s existence. And yet, the amount of limited editions grows every day.

I think at this point complaining about limited editions as a category is near the definition of insanity, particularly given the people complaining are the people enabling the problem. Instead, some creativity to the category, like prereleases as regional editions, a la Tatuaje, would be nice.

This year saw an increasing number of limited releases, store exclusives, small batches and other similar projects. Davidoff and their associated brands released a good number, My Father put out more single store exclusive sizes of Flor de las Antillas than it has regular versions, La Flor Dominicana released a number of store exclusives, Eddie Ortega unleashed the Wild Bunch, and there are many more examples that dotted the landscape this year. The reality is, it’s a pretty small number of manufacturers who have been in business for longer than a year without a limited edition.

Grade: Yes, stop complaining.

6. WHEN WILL NEW BRANDS REALIZE $10 IS NOT A GOOD STARTING PRICE POINT?

There are a lot of new brands, I mean a lot. The story is roughly the same every time and that’s fine. The problem is the price. I know the economics are hard, particularly since few own their factories—really who besides RoMa Craft and the already established Christian Eiroa and Erik Espinosa, but that doesn’t change the fact $10.00 is not a good MSRP for a new brand.

Humidors are crowded, there are plenty of new brands and trying to get into a retail store—let alone have success—is difficult, at $8.00 retail. $10.25 for a Robusto?

While there were a number of cigars debuting over the $10 mark, including Bodega Premium Cigars and Dante, there was also Fratello, Cabal, Sotolongo, Sindicato’s Casa Bella and Affinity, HVC, Smoking Jacket, Leccia White and Black and some of Royal Gold’s lines all debuting under $10. While it may feel like the median price of most cigars crept up in 2013, there were still plenty of new options that came in under that somewhat magical $10 threshold.

Grade: These new companies deserve more credit than we gave them.

7. HOW “BIG” WILL EMILIO BE IN 2013?

I got a call from a retailer last week, they asked what Emilio was. It’s not the first time I’ve had this conversation. This retailer—like nearly ever other one I’ve had this conversation with—was based neither in the Northeast, nor Southeast. That’s relevant information given brand owner Gary Griffith’s other job as premium cigar manager for Delaware Cigars makes him a noted figure in the former and National Sales Director Nate McIntyre’s work in the latter is also known. Emilio is a company growing, including based off a plethora of distribution deals, which have become the butt of friendly jokes online, but I think it’s fair to ask—what will 2013 be like for Emilio?

Like it or not, Emilio is one of the biggest questions I have for 2013 based on what took place this past year. In the midst of a lot of growth, there were public setbacks and 2012 including a theme of product delays, chief among which was La Musa Mousa, the new branding for the successful Grimalkin line, a top five cigar on the 2011 Consensus 25. (Cigars are ready when they are ready, but this was an occurrence with Draig K and both versions of La Musa.)…

It certainly looked like it could be a big year for Emilio Cigars given a 2012 full of distribution agreements and small companies coming under the big tent that Gary Griffith had put up under the House of Emilio banner. I would venture to say Ezra Zion has certainly done very well, hiring their own rep and garnering lots of praise for their cigars. 1502 has also generated a bit of buzz, but then there is Guayacan, who didn’t seem to capitalize on their strong showing in 2012, and I would venture to say that the buzz of Gary Griffith’s lines isn’t what it was a year ago when Grimalkin was dominating Top 25 lists. Beyond that, the launch of a Delaware Cigars/Emilio online store didn’t sit well with a number of retailers we’ve heard from. There was also a good bit of rep turnover, and while their IPCPR booth was popular, there appeared to be problems with how it’s positioned.

Maybe 2013 wasn’t so much a year of growth but a year of organization for the House of Emilio, who spent most of 2012 arranging distribution deals with a number of companies, building relationships with retailers and getting their own house in order for a big 2014. Regardless, I don’t think Emilio is where we thought it would be when we asked the question.

Grade: Missed it.

8. WILL NOT DISCLOSING INFO BECOME VOGUE?

Call it selfish, but a large part of me hopes this backfires a bit. I agree so often cigars are judged by everything other than how the cigar—you know—actually smokes, but the concept of suppressing information as a good thing is plain scary. I think readers would be shocked about how reluctant manufacturers can be about cigars, even over basic pieces of information like, say, where the cigars were made or how many were made.

I think the staff of halfwheel will agree, nothing is more frustrating than talking to a manufacturer about a product we got a press release for that they won’t answer questions about. It is absurd and something we combat seemingly every week.

While we still struggle to get information at times, by and large the answer was no. Sure, Viaje is notoriously secretive and Dissident Cigars refused to disclose the factory where Soapbox and Bloc are made for fear of skewing people’s opinions towards them. But most manufacturers remain very cooperative; and we certainly don’t expect a company to disclose everything about their blends—McDonald’s doesn’t tell you what’s in the Secret Sauce, KFC’s Original Recipe is a guarded secret and we’ve all heard the stories of how protective Coca-Cola is with their recipe. Is it perfect? Not by a long shot. Did we see a big change in 2013? No.

Grade: Thankfully, this didn’t become as pervasive of a problem as we feared.

9. HOW CRAZY WILL FUENTE, MY FATHER & TATUAJE MAKE 2013?

It’s the delayed 100th anniversary of the former and the tenth anniversary of the brands of the Garcías and Pete Johnson. Fuente promised a lot, virtually entirely delayed until 2013. Johnson keeps adding to his list of things to do in 2013 with resurrections of some of his most sought after releases. And it’s hard to believe My Father would do just a single 10th anniversary cigar.

Unless My Father puts something out in the final days of 2013, the Don Pepin Garcia 10th Anniversary will be the company’s lone 10th anniversary cigar. While they had a Miami party in the spring, I noted how subdued the My Father booth was at IPCPR, and it seems its releases this year toed the line of a subdued celebration.

Tatuaje was a bit more festive, producing a distinctive line of packaging for their 10th anniversary, as well as a pair of new sizes and the return of the Black Label Corona Gorda—well, almost—so I would say that Pete Johnson was a bit more celebratory. It was a busy year for Tatuaje but almost more in a par for the course manner than anything really nuts. Both Tatuaje and My Father Cigars partook in several anniversary events at retail shops, but it wasn’t as if every event rolled out the red carpet and “Congrats on 10 Years!” banner.

Fuente saved its best for last with Casa CubaAngel’s Share and Destino al Siglo shipping alongside with the regular OpusX and Añejo releases. Fuente seems to feel a lot more festive if you are close to the company and its people, whereas if you are a customer outside of south Florida or didn’t attend the IPCPR Trade Show or Big Smoke, I’m not sure you would have picked up on the celebratory nature of 2013 for them as much either.

Grade: Not that crazy after all.

10. WHAT WILL IPCPR 2013 LOOK LIKE?

Ever year it’s the same story: retailers complain about the lack of “value,” manufacturers boast about “best sales year ever” and somehow attendance is through the roof? It seemed a lot less crowded this year and like a lot less business was being done, but it’s not like I’ve done the math. The return to Vegas should hopefully see some more attendees, here’s to hoping they aren’t all here for this.

I voiced my thoughts about how to keep the trade show relevant a few years ago, the pendulum seems to be swinging further and further away from the level that seemed healthy to me, this surely doesn’t seem like a positive side for the trade show proper.

The logical place to start for this answer is in our IPCPR recap article, most notably where we questioned the lack of celebration and what could be some questionable buying patterns of retailers. The show is still the most relevant event in the cigar industry, though that might be beginning to change with the growing influence of TAA. IPCPR feels almost as much of a family reunion as it does a real selling event these days (please don’t ban us in 2014 though), with the exception of a handful of companies who keep new releases secret until the show floor opens—a number that seems to be fairly small given how many brands try and get ahead of the curve with press releases in the weeks leading up to the show, possibly to get on retailers’ must-visit lists and stand out in the annual sea of new releases.

I don’t think anyone would say IPCPR 2013 was bad or attendance was way down; if anything, probably the opposite. Booth space grew to new levels, existing exhibitors often added more space, several new manufacturers debuted, and the show floor seemed to have a decent bit of buzz to it. At the same time, it seems to be getting harder for retailers and media to cover the entire show floor in the allotted time, let alone be able to have conversations with friends new and old.

Credit is due to certain manufacturers who are trying to make the show a must-attend event by offering show-only cigars such as L’Atelier’s Extension de la Racine and Illusione’s Singularé. It may not be the perfect solution, but it’s a start.

Once again we heard the fatiguing and frustrating discussion as to where to have future trade shows, either keeping them in Las Vegas or bouncing around to what feels like a shrinking list of cities willing to host a cigar convention. There is no perfect answer, of course, as no city offers the perfect combination of ideal location, extracurricular activities, ease of getting around, reasonable prices and of course, being cigar friendly.

Then of course, there is the idea that has been lingering over IPCPR for some time: opening up the show floor to consumers as a way to raise funds. It hasn’t been an oft-discussed topic as of late, though that doesn’t mean it’s been taken completely off the table.

Until the number and size of the exhibitors contracts a bit, or the number of retailers attending goes way up, it would seem that the trend of feeling a bit more disjointed and spread out will continue, which may in turn give off the appearance of the show not feeling as exciting as it has in years past. Without a return to manufacturers hosting mega events that command the headlines, the evolution of IPCPR will be an interesting one to watch.

Grade: Missed this one a bit, but trends in the coming years could prove otherwise. 

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Patrick Lagreid
About the author

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.

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