It’s been two years since halfwheel’s last visit to the Tobacco Plus Convenience Expo (TPC), the annual two-day winter trade show geared towards convenience store operators but that also has a number of premium cigar manufacturers as exhibitors. It’s an independent show, meaning that you don’t have to belong to a specific group such as IPCPR or TAA to exhibit or attend, and the biggest booth at this show belongs to Phillips & King, a huge distributor of tobacco and other products throughout the country. The majority of premium cigar companies that attend the show do so because of their relationship with P&K, though they are certainly looking to grow their business at the same time by expanding into stores where you might not expect to find premium cigars, such as marinas, bait shops, golf courses, hotels, resorts and of course, convenience stores.
For premium cigar manufacturers, TPC isn’t really a time to show off new products, though there were a few new items on display, as well as the rebranded AVO line.
It’s also not an event where you will see as many of the big names in the cigar industry, with the booths generally being staffed by sales directors, sales representatives or marketing people, but that too has its exceptions. Tom Lazuka of Asylum and CLE Cigar Co./Asylum was in attendance, as was Shawna Williams, the recently appointed vice-president of Villiger Cigars North America, and who was joined by Jaxx Guevarra, the company’s new special events director. Drew Estate’s booth had the familiar faces of David Lafferty and “Dirty” Fabien Ziegler, the company’s national accounts manager and event dude, respectively.
Other notables in attendance were General Cigar Co., Altadis, Davidoff, Oliva Cigar Co., Arturo Fuente/J.C. Newman Cigar Co., Rocky Patel Premium Cigars, JetLine, Colibri, Nat Sherman, JM Tobacco, Kings Cigar, Exactus Cigar, Tabacalera El Artista and Ventura Cigar Co., who is owned by Phillips & King.
There were also a handful of premium cigar shop operators in attendance, most of whom told me they were looking at vaping and e-cigarette products as a way to possibly expand their businesses.
Once again, there was at least one person from FDA in attendance, though our paths did not cross and from what I heard from the premium cigar manufacturers that she visited, the conversations were friendly and geared more towards science than policy or enforcement.
There were a few questions heading into this year’s TPC Expo that were of interest, the first of which was what Drew Estate might have to show off in regards to ACID now that the deal with Swisher is complete. Other than having Alex Goldman and the Royal Gold line of cigars in the Drew Estate booth, the answer was nothing. G-Fresh packaging is still prominent, but the ACID line has yet to be expanded. It’s hard to think that an ACID expansion is not coming and that this show would eat it up, but it wasn’t in Las Vegas.
The second was how the show would differ from two years ago and what products would dominate, and one word summed it up: vaping. The vaping business seems to be exploding, replacing traditional hookahs and electronic cigarettes, and was what brought Victor Vitale to the show with Happy Juice, his new line of premium vape juice.