The IPCPR trade show and convention is over. Cigars are arriving in stores now and with a bit of time to aid perspective, a few thoughts on the show. We hope you enjoyed our semi-live coverage of the trade show, it was not easy and there are still things we would like to improve, but overall, we feel it was a success. We also hope you enjoy our continued reviews coverage of trade show debuts, which will be the name of the site for the upcoming few weeks.
Finally, we’d like to thank all of the manufacturers, retailers, other media members and other industry professionals who shared meals, drinks, cigars and time with us at the show.
Here’s ten of our larger thoughts on what we think will be an important trade show to look back on. They are in no order. Think of it like a mid-year update to the Ten Questions.
- Here Comes (Even More) San Andrés — This has been coming for a while, but at every turn when we spoke to people about projects further down the pipeline, they seemed to involve Mexican San Andrés. The wrapper has already managed to shed just about every negative once associated with it and been featured on notable cigars such as Ashton’s La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor, Drew Estate’s Undercrownand Illusione’s Rothchildes, but we are going to see a lot more of it, and soon. There are a few reasons for this, but a lot of it is economics and supply. Good Nicaraguan wrappers have become a lot more scarce, broadleaf is much the same story, Ecuador has been the place to be for the last 18 months due to cost and yield and many are looking for something new. In addition, prices in Brazil have skyrocketed recently and Cameroon remains a very expensive product. It doesn’t hurt that Mexico’s wrappers are getting better and better. — CM.
- Sindicato — There was really no way to know what to expect at the Sindicato booth; when we visited it was Jim Collucci and a few other staffers and the booth was a bit underwhelming, tucked against the wall on one side of the show floor. If anything, the surprise that came from Collucci about some manufacturers having an issue with a group of retailers starting their own cigar company was a shock. How could he not expect that? What wasn’t seen or heard – at least out loud – was a real outcry from the manufacturers. A lot of people asked our thoughts on them and wanted to know what we were hearing, but it was all taken with a wait-and-see approach. The company is launched; now they have to sell the cigars and put them up against all the other existing and new brands in their humidors. The one thing that wasn’t really discussed pre-show was the reaction that certain retailers would have to the line. If you’re a retailer that’s in the same market as another retailer who is part of the Sindicato group, would you carry those cigars? To some, it’s just a way of putting money into the pocket of your competitor. This would seem to limit the reach that Sindicato would be able to achieve, but again, it goes back to the question of whether or not the cigars can sell. If they’re fantastic and fly off shelves, it’ll be a boon for those carrying them. — PL.
- Retailers Weren’t Having the Best of Shows — For the first time in a while, it was obvious that many retailers were hurting. There are a lot of reasons as to why 2013 has been a great year, but there’s not really a central cause to the problem. Bad weather has hurt a few regions, new laws have hurt others and the flood of cigars seems to have finally caught up with a decent bit. There were a host of brands who reported somewhat disappointing shows and one reason why is that retailers don’t have as many resources to try new things. Humidors are largely already overstocked, so the physical space to try new things isn’t there for many, but it’s also hurt in the wallet. There are staple products (Macanudo Cafe, Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real, Rocky Patel The Edge, Fuente Chateau, etc.) that most retailers have to carry because of their popularity and then there are the consistent sellers for individual shops. What’s left, both financially and physically, is the room retailers have to experiment and it’s shrunk, a lot. — CM.
- C-stores — They’re not at IPCPR (that we could see) but there are an increasing number of products being geared to them that are. In January, halfwheel made its first visit to the Tobacco Plus Expo in Las Vegas where we saw just how much an increasing part of the cigar world the convenience store industry is becoming. General Cigar and Drew Estate both had single-serve humidified packaging geared towards convenience stores, since then Altadis and Swisher have made it clear they’d like to be in the market with premium cigars. While there aren’t many c-stores attending IPCPR because they don’t have the proper licensing to buy directly from manufacturers, it’s clear they are becoming an increasingly important part of the premium cigar industry, and that includes potential lobbying. — PL.
- Davidoff is Back — We have publicly questioned what the Swiss giant has been thinking and doing for a few years now, and we weren’t alone. After a few years of rebuilding, the results look grand. Davidoff Nicaragua might have been the most talked about cigar of the trade show, Camacho’s rebranding—while somewhat polarizing—seems to be working on the retail level. Perhaps more importantly, they cleaned up the sales sheet, lowered prices, upgraded packaging, brought in a new team—we could continue. The reality with Camacho is this: people are now coming into stores asking for the product, something that wasn’t happening three months ago. Matt Booth, Mike Ditka and Rob Weiss have clear roles within the larger brand and it seems like more of these collaborations are coming, but that’s just pure speculation. The rest of the Davidoff portfolio is not perfect, AVO, The Griffin’s, Winston Churchill and Zino would all benefit from a bottom-up makeover like Camacho, but that costs money—which Davidoff seems content to spend—and the timing wouldn’t be right given the Camacho makeover hasn’t even made its way into most shops at this point. The biggest change Davidoff has made is behind-the-scenes. Over the last three years few companies have gone through a makeover like Davidoff, particularly on the North American side, and the management that is in place now seems more than capable. — CM.
- Traditional Sizes Still Matter — There’s no denying that this is a 6 x 60 era, with the 7 x 70 and even 8 x 80 becoming more prevalent on retailers’ shelves. Yet at IPCPR we saw numerous manufacturers roll out traditional vitolas, meaning that Coronas, Robustos and even Lanceros (we’re looking at you, Clint Aaron) are still a big part of the cigar industry. While the big ring gauge end of the spectrum is getting a lot of attention, it’s not necessarily at the expense of smaller ring gauge cigars. — PL.
- Protective Buying — This is far and away the most dangerous trend we witnessed at the show: retailers buying cigars, not because they believe they will do well, but because they don’t want their customers trying them at another shop. In a world where shelf space and spending dollars are at a premium, this approach—which seemed like common place—is really dangerous, particularly for smaller shops. In the “what’s new” world that we live in, there may not be a solution, but there will be more problems. — CM.
- Why Aren’t We Celebrating? — This is one I just could not understand this year. I don’t want to pick on any particular manufacturer, but there were several companies celebrating anniversaries this year, a manufacturer coming off cigar of the year who is known for his love of music and celebration, and the fact that this is an industry built around luxury, entertainment and relaxation. Plus, it’s Las Vegas, the place seemingly everyone wanted to get back to after being in Orlando last year. Yet it felt like almost every booth was all about business, short of the hookah and OTP vendors, with their scantily clad young women trying to draw you into the booth over a soundtrack of hip-hop and EDM. It wasn’t until Tuesday or Wednesday when Arturo Sandoval’s trumpet was heard coming out of the Fuente booth that it was realized just how quiet the show floor had been. There seemed to be a significant reduction in the amount of food and booze – and general hospitality – on the show floor this year, which ultimately made for a less festive show. Yes, IPCPR is a sales event – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a fun one. —PL.
- Throwing Things At the Wall — That was the impression we got from nearly everyone that went into General Cigar Co.’s circus show of product releases. Numerous retailer and media members seemed less than impressed by the 21 new Foundry Tobacco Company blends. No retailer will be able to carry all of them, as some of them are slated for brick and mortars, while others for catalogs; but the response seemed near universal: this is throwing things at the wall at its finest. The part that’s incredible about this is, if there’s any company that wouldn’t need to try this, it’s General. Macanudo and Cohiba are arguably the two most recognizable names in the cigar industry and definitely responsible for much of the company’s sales, but we got this. It appeared uninspired, overwhelming and not so well thought out. In addition to Foundry’s 21 extensions, there was a second new line for La Gloria Serie R, three new Trunk Shows and new lines for CAO, Dunhill and Macanudo. If that wasn’t enough Cohiba got two extensions, Dunhill another, three for Partagás and two for Punch, plus another Partagas 150 humidor release. I can’t help but wonder what this would all look like, with just a single box of each item, on a shelf in a humidor. The answer is simple: overwhelming. People can get on Rocky Patel and Gurkha all they want for new blends, but neither of them could dream of 20 plus blends for Foundry. It’s just that crazy. — CM.
- Perhaps We Need a New Measuring Stick to Judge IPCPR — For the past three years, the “I could roll a bowling ball down the aisle and I wouldn’t hit anyone” joke has been applied to the attendance of the IPCPR trade show. So, are we just using the wrong metrics? The reality is this show looked better attended than the 2012 show in Orlando and about as crowded as the 2011 show, the last time we were in Las Vegas. The difference, the convention center floor had increased by 150 percent. People seem to be living in the days of RTDA or when Lynyrd Skynrd was performing at CAO parties, that’s not happening again for the foreseeable future and it’s probably not the best standard to judge the success of the trade show against. If you are willing to say that this show was worse than the last Las Vegas, two most recent New Orleans trade shows or last year in Orlando. Line up, I’m all ears. Unfortunately, the numbers—which aren’t out yet—aren’t going to help say much. Badges were scanned for only one of the four days of the trade show for the halfwheel staff members, so at best we will get some numbers about how many badges/booths were sold, at best. — CM/PL.