It’s quite cold here in Dallas as I write this. Today is Friday, well, the day I am writing this is Friday. But if you are reading this post, it’s likely Monday, Feb. 11, the first day of Tobacco Plus Expo 2019.
As I’ve done for the last two years, I’m back in Las Vegas to cover the Tobacco Plus Expo (TPE), a tobacco-focused trade show that includes a small—but growing—cigar contingent. Today’s post is being written before the show as a preview article, but I hope to provide live coverage for you during the next three days.
It’s an annual trade show hosted by Kretek International/Phillips & King, a California-based distributor of tobacco products and others. Readers of this website are probably most familiar with the company for Ventura Cigar Co., which it owns, but Kretek has a lot of other products. It sells to retailers around the country, mostly places you wouldn’t think of as a “cigar shop,” i.e. a discount tobacco outlet and independent tobacco stores, but it also probably sells to many of your local brick and mortar tobacconists.
I’ve also described this show as a mini Intertabac, the European tobacco trade show. That description is fitting because like Intertabac, TPE is much smaller, and it is a tobacco trade show, not a cigar trade show. Cigars make up only a minority of the booths at the show, there’s a much larger e-cigarette contingent along with accessories, some pipe presence, a growing number of head shop and other cannabis-related products and then some random booths like gourmet popcorn.
Phillips & King’s Tobacco Media Group—which also publishes Tobacco Business magazine—puts on the trade show. I’m a bit baffled by P&K’s overall strategy as I’ve been told by multiple people that the company wants to focus its resources on the growing cannabis market, but in recent years, it has made fairly notable investments in both TPE and its cigar business. Those efforts would include the hiring of Michael Giannini, launching Tobacco Business with a handful of staff and then the continued efforts to expand TPE.
This year might be the most notable change in terms of the TPE commitment. Dawn Conger, who previously headed the IPCPR Convention & Trade Show, was brought on as a consultant—though that doesn’t even make my list of the four most notable differences heading into TPE 2019.
1. A Third Day — While TPE has typically been two days, this year there’s an additional half day. The show starts Monday at 1 p.m. and runs until 5; then Tuesday is 10:30-5 and Wednesday is 10:30-4. There’s also a variety of seminars—which are rather well attended—that take place before the show begins. I’m not sure if everyone will find the extra half day necessary, so I’m curious to see what attendance looks like later today.
Also of note, TPE is a bit later in the year, as it has previously been held in January.
2. New Vendors — From what I can tell, there are roughly 20 more vendors than last year, but the names of the cigar companies that are going to be in attendance this year that weren’t there last year are pretty notable.
- E.P. Carrillo
- La Barba
3. New Product — It also seems clear that TPE has made an effort to try to get brands to debut new product at TPE 2019. There’s a section on the event’s website dedicated to press releases regarding new items and we’ve reported on a variety of new SKUs from Drew Estate, Micaleff and Royal Agio, which is “a variety of new SKUs” more than there were last year when there was essentially nothing new to my knowledge.
4. Paying for Retailers Travel — I’ve long argued that companies should make similar gestures to key accounts for the IPCPR Convention & Trade Show, though to my knowledge that practice really doesn’t happen. TPE is paying for the hotel rooms for retailers who attend the show. Two nights at the SLS in Las Vegas is not expensive—maybe $110 total on a corporate rate—and yet it goes a long way.
Disclosure: TPE purchased advertising on halfwheel in the latter half of 2018. Tobacco Media Group also offered to pay for my hotel. All other travel expenses have been paid for by halfwheel.