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.
The distribution company Daughters & Ryan had an interesting cigar on display, the 1881 Perique Maduro, which is made in the Philippines and uses the very unique perique tobacco, which generally comes from Louisiana and delivers a very intense, powerful and fruity aroma.
Whereas Altadis has one of the biggest booths at IPCPR, at TPC they have just one booth space that features some of the company’s core products as well as single serve options. The selection was impressive though, as the Espada by Montecristo was featured, as was the Romeo by Romeo y Julieta line.
Altadis had a number of lines available in Fresh-Loc packaging, including the value-oriented Casa de García line.
At the CLE booth were these Asylum cases, designed to hold up to three 80 ring gauge cigars. You could probably fit a handful of lanceros or coronas in there as well.
There was a cigar roller from Carolina Cigar Co., which is part of Rouseco, who is known for its lines of pipe tobacco.
CLE is releasing a number of value-priced single flame torch lighters bearing the marks of several of their brands. MSRP is $10 each.
There’s also this secured presentation format for the ACID line.
Drew Estate’s ACID line was front and center at TPC, with a number of different presentations available, such as this one that offers five product slots.
While JetLine produces the triple-flame Bolero lighter in the standard colors of black, silver, red and yellow, they are also offering it in pink and purple to appeal to female cigar smokers. MSRP is $79.99.
This little device from JetLine is a cigar punch, lighter purging tool and screwdriver for adjusting the valve on your lighter all in one, and all for just $9.99.
The JetLine PGA lighter was one of the more interesting new products from the company; it’s a quad-flame lighter that is geared towards golfers and is said to hold a half of a can of butane. It’s available in black, brown and this red-and-black combo, each with an MSRP of $99.99.
JM Tobacco was showing off a number of its airtight packs, which use food-grade plastic to seal in a factory-fresh taste.
Kings Cigars has been making a bit of noise in the premium cigar world lately, and Anwar Mithavayani had some sealed packs as well in the company’s Knights line.
Likewise, the NUb brand can be found in single-serve packs.
Oliva isn’t missing out on the opportunity to get fresh cigars to their fans, using sealed single cigar packs for its Connecticut Reserve and Serie G lines.
A look at the controls of one of the Raching humidors.
There were a number of Chinese companies at the show, including Raching, which makes humidors and wine refrigerators for a number of applications from home use to large scale installations. They brought along these two humidors, which would cost less than $1,000 each in the U.S.
The Romeo y Julieta 1875 line is another of the company’s cigars available in sealed packages.
As is the Saint Luis Rey line.
One of the more interesting accessory companies at the TPC Expo was Zico, which makes a range of torch lighters at reasonable prices.
Zico had this single cigar humidifier tube, complete with a hygrometer on the front and humidification unit in the base to make sure that your cigar stays fresh.
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.
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.